Archive for November, 2007

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Colored lines… oooohhhhh…

November 30, 2007

I took a look at the most basic stat in hockey, goals for and against.  I wanted to see how the Jackets were doing on a rolling five game basis in each of these categories.  By this, I mean starting with game five on the schedule, for each game I went and calculated the average of the goals for and against for the previous five games (inclusive of that game number). 

I chose five because I think it’s a pretty fair number to use when dealing with the idea of momentum.  Any number much smaller, and you leave too much room for abberations (like 7 goals for against Chicago) to skew your data.  Any number much larger, and I think the trends smooth out too much.  So what did I find?  It’s not all that unexpected if you look at the difference in performance from October to November.  Click the chart below to see a larger, readable view.

Five game average after 25

(Click to enlarge)

A few things jump out at me when I look at this.  First are the most obvious things, that GF are trending slightly down and GA are trending up (a little more than slightly I might add).  The most recent data point for GF is below 2 for the first time this season.  The Jackets goose-egg against St. Luongo last night plays a part in this.  Anyone watching the CBJ regularly this season would not argue with the statement that scoring has looked harder to come by as the season has progressed.  Anecdotally and factually, this is true. 

What I’m not quite as worried about as maybe I should be is the GA trend.  After Game 13, the CBJ had allowed a ridiculously low 0.6 goals per game over their last five.  Two shutouts and three one-goal efforts will do that for you.  It’s also unrealistic to expect this on a nightly basis.  The cynic in me (oh heck, I’m all cynic some days) would say this is why they don’t award trophies until the season is actually done. 

There will be ups and downs each season for every organization.  This is inevitable, and each swing in itself should not be alarming.  But when trends become a consistent reality, this is when I’d chose to display confidence or despair as applicable to the situation.  On one hand, we’ve seen what the Jackets are capable of doing, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re not playing up to the standards they set.  On the other hand, maybe those first thirteen games were the abberation and we’re closely approaching a panic point.  Month number three of this NHL season should tell us if the rest of the season matters.  I know I’ll stick around to watch.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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Puck-rakers cynical?

November 29, 2007

Puck-rakers had a post titled Absolute Mess and boy did it draw the comments. It was posted by Aaron Portzline, covering the unraveling of the Doug MacLean-led group that made an offer for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He mentioned that without MacLean buying the team, the Blue Jackets would still have to pay their former employee $450,00, which I fail to see of any importance, but his closing words were this:

A cynic would say this is MacLean’s last “gift” to the Blue Jackets’ fanbase. Good thing I’m not a cynic.

That is what got everyone talking. So far, the post has drawn 14 comments, with some of the commenter’s echoing Portzline and others calling him and The Dispatch to task for only now speaking up about MacLean’s tenure. It has been fun to read, kind of like watching strangers arguing in a tavern. So at considerable risk, I am going to jump in.

First off, I joined Drew at End of the Bench after we had a debate over the health of the franchise. I pointed out to Drew that not everyone was happy with MacLean and that there are other ways to manage a contemporary NHL team. The two of us discussed personalities, the PEI Old-Timers Club, the draft picks, the role of players within the organization, the marketing, where the NHL was moving compared to the Blue Jackets, and so. Drew stated very early on at EOB that he had concerns about the coverage of the CBJ by The Dispatch since the Wolfe family (and therefore The Dispatch) had an ownership stake in the team. He wanted EOB to show a viewpoint different than the corporate one presented by The Dispatch. It’s not that he picked on The Dispatch, but lets be honest, no other media outlet covers hockey in Central Ohio. That is also why there are so many hockey blogs in this area.

I have met and dealt with MacLean and found him to be knowledgeable but pompous, certain of his convictions and generous to his friends. I have witnessed his temper and found it odd and out of place for a professional of his age. I have friends in the hockey world who guard their opinions of him to outsiders, but have witnessed his foibles. I became a MacLean cynic after his second season in Columbus, but because at that time I worked in the hockey world, kept my guard up. But MacLean had nightly sell-outs going for him, so he had no restraints.

I am not a journalist nor do I pretend to be. I have no idea how difficult it must have been for The Dispatch staff to cover the Blue Jackets when their focal point, by design, was Doug MacLean. Maybe the other media outlets in this area, notably the TV stations, felt that it was a lost cause having to interview MacLean all the time and so they left the job to The Dispatch. It was not like ESPN or TSN or other sports media covered the team and MacLean would have to watch himself. A few journalists did call out MacLean (Eric Duhatschek and James Mirtle), but they did so with no frequency or continuity. So coverage of the team was left to Portzline and Michael Arace, with occasional columns from Bob Hunter. Since Arace and Portzline had to be with the team on a daily basis, they held their noses and wrote their stories. The fans kept coming and filling Nationwide and nobody wanted to hear about MacLean screaming at the officials after a game or screaming at a player in the locker room, or signing a player for too much money.

I do not agree that these writers are being cynical and serving no purpose by bashing MacLean after his departure. MacLean is gone and the team is better, but the attendance is down, revenue is not growing like it should, and losses continue. The team and those who cover it were fully prepared to move on after MacLean was fired, but he had to keep taking shots at Columbus and running his mouth. He had a single good year in Florida, he had a nice opening season in Columbus, but what has he done lately? That is the final judgment in business and professional sports, and that is the world that Doug MacLean lives in. His balance sheet is not something to brag about. Since we fans (I am a PSL owner since Day One) are stuck with the product that he left us, we have the right to bash him. The Dispatch gave MacLean the benefit of the doubt while he was here and was easy on him when he was terminated, but now have the right to (and must) report the truth and won’t suffer for it. They are making us aware of how deep a hole we are in, but named the guy who did most of the digging. They have also written that John McConnell bears ultimate responsibility for both the condition of the franchise and the future of it. I find nothing wrong with the current coverage or the personal blogs that they write.

Doug MacLean still has a home here and spends time in Columbus. Why can’t he take his money and quietly move on?

-Truth Serum

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Hitched Horses

November 27, 2007

The Blue Jackets have performed above the expectations of just about everybody so far this season, much to the delight of this writer.  The easy mentions for reasons why are usually picked from this list of four: Hitchcock, Leclaire, Nash, and Zherdev.  I can’t argue with any of those picks as integral to the early season success of the team.

One of the things that’s intrigued me about hockey, especially recently, is who is playing against whom.  I’m not talking about Jackets vs. Wings.  I’m talking about this: when Henrik Zetterberg comes over the boards, who are we sending out against him?  As a neophyte to the game of hockey compared to many, educated solely by hockey video games, I assumed that rolling lines meant they went on the ice in order.  The more I watched and learned, this perception slowly changed.  I began to notice that the better players were out on the ice more often, which made good sense.  What only later began to dawn on me was that you’d better not have Jody Shelley on the ice when Pavel Datsyuk was out for the Wings.

I’m not sure why this didn’t dawn on me earlier (before you start laughing too hard, I’m talking about many years ago.  It’s not like I just picked up on this yesterday), as in football you match up defensive backs with wide receivers, and in baseball you commonly play the lefty/righty matchups at the plate in the late innings.  But for some reason, I was slow to connect the dots.  The I started to learn the different roles of a hockey forward: sniper, playmaker, grinder, etc.  I watched Draper, Maltby, and McCarty out against the Jackets top line time and again, and I slowly woke up.

So now that I’ve found all these great new-to-me hockey stat/analysis/etc sites, I started asking questions.  The broadcast media has been all over the “Speed Line” of Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra, and Dan Fritsche.  I’ll be the first to admit they can be fun to watch, and based on what I heard on TV I was under the impression that these guys were the ones put out against the top line of the opponents.  So I decided to do a little checking

I went over to Behind the Net, and pulled some of the data.  In the following analysis, I’m only comparing NHL players who have played 10 or more games as of last night.

One of the stats at the center of Desjardins’ site is his “Behindthenet number”, or what I’m hoping he won’t mind I’m going to call “Rating”.  Essentially, it is the expression of the difference (at 5 on 5) between the team’s plus/minus rate when a player is on the ice and when he’s off the ice (note this is a rate per 60 minutes of ice-time).  He uses this number for each player combined with shift chart data to show quality of competition data and quality of teammate data, among other things.  These are the things that interest me in regards to my question: Who does Ken Hitchcock have playing the hard minutes in the hockey game?

My suspicions

Based on what I’ve heard from broadcasters, print media, friends, and my expectations from what I know of playing styles, I would expect the following players (in no particular order) to be leading the team in hard minutes: Michael Peca, Manny Malhotra, Jason Chimera and Adam Foote.  Peca is a former Selke winner, which indicates that someone thinks he plays decent defense.  Malhotra and Chimera always seem to play decently in their own end, so I assumed they’d be on the list.  And finally, Foote plays on the first D-man pairing, so I figured he’d see more hard minutes than most.

So what did I find?

The findings

584 players had played 10 or more games as of last night, here are the top ranked Blue Jackets.

Adam Foote – 24 games played, tied for 5th in the NHL in strength of opposition: 0.25

Jan Hejda – 23 games played, tied for 12th: 0.21

Nikolai Zherdev – 24 games played, tied for 12th: 0.21

Rick Nash – 24 games played, tied for 18th: 0.19

For additional information on this metric, check out the site.  Also, for reference, Sammy Pahlsson leads the NHL in this category at 0.33.  The average rating for players in my sample is roughly zero as you might expect (plus/minus at EV is a zero sum event).

So what about Peca, Malhotra, and Chimera?  Peca is tied for 116th with 0.08, and the entire Speed Line (plus Brule) is tied for 363rd at -0.03.

Conclusions

It’s not surprising to me that Foote and Hejda are leading the team.  They generally form the top pairing, and should play tough minutes.  Zherdev was a huge surprise to me, as until this season I’d thought of him as a defensive liability.  The same goes for Nash, to a lesser extent as he started to show some d-zone responsibility last year.  The huge shocker goes to the fact that all four of those guys are in the top 20 in the NHL is strength of opposition faced.  Perhaps three games so far against Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom is skewing the stats?  In any event, it was interesting to see those two forwards up there.

The final interesting item lies in who is being protected from the big boys.  Ringing in at 570 of 584 with a -0.21 strength of competition is rookie defenseman Kris Russell.   I think it’s nice that the team has the luxury to be able to groom Russell in NHL game speed against competition that is relatively weak.

So now I know who Hitch is riding to success so far, and I’ll be interested to see if/how this changes as the season progresses.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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Numbers, rates, and metrics… oh my!

November 27, 2007

It’s no secret to everyone here that I’ve been trying to figure out how to use stats more in my team analysis. I’ve done some data mining of my own, and what I usually find is that I don’t know what questions to ask. There is a lot of information available through the gamesheets provided at www.nhl.com, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for you probably won’t find “it”.

My initial problem with my first few forays into the world of numbers was that it was fairly cumbersome for me to extract what I wanted.  I insisted on doing things my own (usually harder than the hard way), which almost always ended the project halfway to completion.  I’ve recently rediscovered the fine minds over at www.mc79hockey.com, and reading through some of the posts and comments helped remind me that a lot of the heavy lifting had already been done.

If you are at all interested in hockey statistics beyond the sense of “who leads the league in goals” and other easily obtainable items, you should check out the following sites.

  • Behind the Net – Gabriel Desjardins has more information than you thought a hockey game contained.  For me, it’s the stuff I didn’t know I wanted, but was pleased to find because it starts to help answer the questions I hadn’t asked yet.  Confused yet?  I was too.  Check out the site.
  • NHL Shift Charts – Vic Ferrari has put together a great site so you can visually see who is matched up with who on the ice, in addition to some nice charts listing head-to-head ice time.
  • Hockey Numbers – Java Geek runs this site.  I’m pretty new to this one, and it seems very academically stats based.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have slept through Stats 135 in college.
  • Hockey Analysis – David Johnson has some great pre-made lists put together, and check out the blog as well.
  • On the Forecheck – Dirk Hoag runs some good stuff from down in Tennessee.

There are bound to be many more stats sites I haven’t discovered yet.  I know I mentioned it before the listing, but I think you should check out these sites if you have any interest in hockey analysis at all.  Danny Gare, head on over, buddy.

I have a feeling, now that I know the hard work is already being done, that many of my upcoming posts will pull data from one of the sites listed above.  I hope that with the help of these folks, I can better understand the game of hockey.  I didn’t grow up with the game, as I did with football and baseball, so I don’t believe I have too many preconceived notions of what I’m looking for in a hockey game other than those that are constantly treated as gospel on the TV broadcasts.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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A few tidbits

November 27, 2007

James Mirtle has a few items up over at his site that may be of interest to those of us in Blue Jacket Land.

Apparently, things are not going well down south with the sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Absolute Hockey Enterprises, of which former CBJ President/GM Doug MacLean is a partner, failed to come up with a required $5 million payment.  James links to Lightning Strikes, the St. Pete Times’ hockey blog.  From James Thorner and Jonathan Milton at LS:

…the investment group has splintered as Coral Springs real estate developer Jeff Sherrin and former Blue Jackets president Doug MacLean are suing Hollywood producer Oren Koules for allegedly failing to make a capital contribution of $4.17-million which was to be part of the $5-million payment.

The article states that Sherrin and MacLean are asking for $50 million in damages from their co-partner.  I’m guessing that’s not $50 million for each, as MacLean has reportedly not put in much money.  He was to be the brains of the operation.  Which makes sense since he’s asking for $50 million from a guy who couldn’t come up with $4.17 million.  Just sayin’.

CGMDM

Doug MacLean looks as happy to be here as we are to (still) have him.

Tampa hockey fans, you can breathe now.

And in other news, the media love for Jody Shelley and Jared Boll continues in Columbus.  Just now I’m watching the Jackets take on the Oilers, and there is a little segment on FSN where Shelley is interviewed to discuss what he and his linemates bring to the team.  Interestingly enough, James Mirtle put up a little article on Saturday discussing the contributions of “tough guys”.  So what do the goons/fighters/enforcers of the NHL provide for their teams?  I won’t butcher Mirtle’s work (go read it, will ya!), but I’ll summarize it by saying this… not much. 

The sample size of the data being used is a tad small (the most combined goals for and against any of the 20 players profiled so far this season is ten), but I’m not certain that the point won’t hold true as the season progresses.

Hockey fighting

Thankfully, they have the tie-down jerseys now so we don’t have to see this.

Now I’m no Shelley/Boll hater, and I’m not a Shelley/Boll apologist either.  I’ve seen Jody work hard in practice to improve his game, and I can understand why many people view him as a fan favorite.  I do think he’s the least skilled forward on the team (not a character indictment, just my opinion), and that he’s far from a favorite of mine.  Jared Boll I think has some promise, but my walls are echoing with the words, “why is he fighting again?”  I suppose it’s possible that he’s trying to make his mark and prove that he belongs, but I think he’s overdoing it just a little.  The energy, hard skating, and hitting I like.  The fighting (especially when Shelley is in the lineup), I don’t care for so much.  There have been a few I understood, but there are some I don’t.  His scrap on Saturday against Detroit’s Aaron Downey I didn’t understand.  Shelley was on the ice (and being corralled by the linesman) at the time, and I’m not sure that Boll’s bout helped the team. 

In any event, what I got from Mirtle’s post is that there may be better options for the fourth line than a guy who mostly fights.  What it made me remember is that we have Freddy Modin (avg 15:09 TOI/game) recuperating from injury while Jody Shelley (4:45 TOI/game) is “taking his place”.  Those nine and a half minutes have to be made up somewhere, don’t you think?

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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Ten Reasons to Appreciate CBJ Hockey

November 19, 2007

10. They don’t play Akron, Kent State, or Youngstown. All the games count.

9. Channel 6 does not cover them. Nor do most of the other local broadcast media, which is really not a bad thing. Can you imagine Dom Tiberi or Jerod Smalley reporting on hockey? Or even worse, what if Mindy Drayer liked hockey and covered the team? I think the Jackets would have to get a restraining order.

8. Scalpers actually charge a reasonable amount of money or even discount tickets. Right now, it is pretty easy to get lower bowl seats at half price.

7. The drunken fans are usually from other teams. So you don’t have to give them the benefit of the doubt when they bother you. You can just wail on them.

6. Games are NOT on the Big Ten Network.

5. Pepsi and Mountain Dew female persons. I know they are pretending to care about you and are there for “family” fun, but they are nice to look at.

4. If a player gets in a fight, it’s OK. The coach doesn’t have to make a phony speech about student values and going to classes to regain their eligibility. Nobody cries out about respecting our school or team as their reason to smack an opponent. The players simply drop the gloves and take care of business.

3. They sell adult beverages at the games. You can legally purchase and enjoy them. Nationwide Arena goes out of its way to accommodate you and your enjoyment of these beverages by selling them every ten feet.

2. You don’t have to put up with fans who drove in from Pulaskiville (population unknown) that ask you a million questions during the game, like “Does the band come on after the first or second period?” or “Where is the nearest Cracker Barrel?” or “What is a Blue Jacket?” or “Is my car safe on Fletcher Street?”

1. Terrell Owens plays football.

-Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #83

November 19, 2007

A lot of random thought in this post:

Last night’s game was fun to watch, tough to accept, but promising nonetheless.  The Jackets did not quit at all, fighting to the end, the end being a game of chance (a shootout) that they get suckered on every time.  The game had so many swings that I could never figure out what would happen next.  The flow and style kept changing, from cautious, to wide open, to physical, to a game of confidence, to a game of hold on.  The Jackets lost because they set themselves up for OT and a Shootout, a losing proposition for them.  Before you jump on me, how many of you thought that having an early lead and momentum was a great time to hand the Wings a five on three advantage?  To those of you out there who want to see more of Jody Shelley, did you like his juvenile outburst of lifting the net off the posts?  I can’t even think of a player in the Capital Hockey Conference (high school) who believes he can get away with that.

Adam Foote played much better last night, but how long is the NHL going to allow him to take a free shot at other players?  He is usually good for a high hit or two in each game and the league seems to tolerate it, but you know the bill will come due at some point.  And if I were on the ice when Tomas Holmstrom and somebody else is in front of my net, I would watch Holmstrom every time if given a choice.  NHL statistics back me on this, too.

Nikolai Zherdev was dazzling last night.  He dusted off the toe drag and schooled a few Red Wing players.  After the last two on one rush that he and Nash had, I swear I saw a brown spot on the ice left by Chris Osgood.

In the end, the Red Wings showed why they are the best and how far the Blue Jackets have to go.  Sure, Pavel Datsyuk got a lucky break on the tying goal, but good players and good teams get the breaks.  As long as the Blue Jackets keep working hard and playing hard, sooner or later they will get some breaks.  In the past, the Wings could beat the Jackets with Kirk Maltby, but last night they needed their best players, Lidstrom, Rafelski, Holstrom, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg to get the job done.

This was a loss to build on, as odd as that sounds.  Wednesday is two days away, but I can hardly wait.

-Truth Serum