• It’s Early

    by  • October 21, 2007 • Uncategorized • 28 Comments

    http://www.geocities.com/kids_inthehall/brucehunk.jpgIn my view, there’s a reason that hockey season starts at the same time as the baseball playoffs. People are supposed to be too busy living and dying with the Boston Red Sox to get caught up in whatever’s going on in the NHL. The early season NHL is filled with all sorts of craziness that tends to lead to wild swings in opinion. Reading the coverage of the early season – Mirtle dumping on the Kings goaltending, the wide spread derision poured on Bryan McCabe and the plaudits for the Philadelphia Flyers, you’d think that the Stanley Cup gets handed out in mid-November at the latest. I hate to acknowledge that Bill Simmons is correct about something, but he’s recently been pushing The Winston Wolf “Let’s Not Start Sucking Each Other’s Popsicles Yet” Test. He applies it to NFL teams where people are jumping on the bandwagon of potential playoff contenders – I think it’s more broadly applicable to any sort of unexpected early season outcome.

    (As an aside, I think that it’s time for someone like Winston Wolf in Edmonton. A panicked Kevin Lowe should phone him, explain the mess that they’ve created and get him to Edmonton as soon as possible.)

    Bob Stauffer, the President and lone remaining member of the Edmonton Branch of the Joffrey Lupul fan club could do with a bit of a reminder on this point. Last week, he was going on and on about Joff’s fantastic start to the season. I think I’ve got Stauffer’s show figured out to a certain extent at this point and I think I know what we’ll be hearing if Lupul’s start rolls into November: MacT can’t coach players who aren’t third liners. Can’t coach scorers. He has a disdain for talent. It’s something of a popular refrain on Stauffer’s show.

    On the surface, you might think that he’s onto something with Joff. 7 games into the season, Joff is +5, with a pair of goals and five assists. The Flyers are 6-1-0, laying waste to the NHL. With MacT still wandering the Oilers bench with his arms crossed as the Oilers struggle to scored, it’s enough to fill a guy with murderous rage that the Oilers lost such a gifted young offensive talent, all because MacT doesn’t know how to coach offensive talent.


    But wait…the NHL is collecting more than data than ever, to the point that we can really dig into the things that happen when a player is on the ice. From a team perspective, the Flyers early season success seems a bit lucky. At ES, they’re getting outshot 174-140 but have outscored the opposition 20-5. The Flyers are getting a .966 save percentage at ES so far while their opponents have put up an .857 save percentage at ES. That’s just not going to continue. When Lups is on the ice, the Flyers are getting outshot 62-47. They’ve outscored 8-2 over that time but with the benefit of a .967 save percentage while the other side has compiled an .830 save percentage. Those who’ve stared at Lupul’s numbers in the middle of the night last year, wondering what in the name of God compelled Kevin Lowe to trade Chris F. Pronger for him will notice that Lupul seems to have an awful lot of assists, given that that historically hasn’t been part of his game. That kind of thing will happen when pucks are going in at an outrageous rate.

    Lupul’s use on the PK in Philly was also trumpeted on Stauffer’s show, presented as part of the indictment against MacT, who doesn’t turn his young offensive talents loose on the PK until they’ve achieved a modicum of defensive responsibility. I’m kind of old school here – if I was an NHL coach, I think that I’d try to structure my bench in such a way that my offensive guys weren’t wasted PKing and then try to play the hell out of them at ES and on the PP. It was also presented as a way in which to build a guy’s confidence, showing that you trust him.

    I can’t see why anyone would trust Joff on the ice with his team shorthanded. The numbers don’t say that this is a good idea either: Philly is 13th in the league on the PK right now, despite having played Lupul for 14.28 minutes. In those 14.28 minutes, they’ve given up three goals and 14 shots. That equates to 12.6 PPGA/60 and 58.8 SHSA/60, both of which are awful, terrible numbers. My point above about it being early applies here as well but regardless of whether or not its early, when the results on the ice equate with what you expect…well, for me at least, it gets harder to dismiss that information.

    Like I say, it’s really early and I wouldn’t usually bother to dig beneath the numbers at this point in the season – it should be obvious to anyone who’s seen Joff play the game that the underlying numbers wouldn’t support the proposition that he’s off to an awesome start. It just bugs me a little bit when his superficially good start gets used as evidence of some sort of systemic problem with the Oilers coaching. The problem is what it’s been for a long time in Edmonton: the “offensive” players identified by the management team generally suck. That was Lupul’s problem, Nedved’s problem, Schremp’s problem (so far)…the blame gets put on the wrong guy.

    About

    28 Responses to It’s Early

    1. October 21, 2007 at

      Re: the Kings’ goaltending:

      I picked up LaBarbera in both my pools this year, entirely due to your ceaseless pimping; I figured he was the odds-on fave to be the clear #1. As recently as Thursday, I was ready to FedEx a cowpie to your office. Looks now like he’ll get a decent chance to prove it (Aubin took a whole 5 periods to show Crawford what he can’t do).

      I really, really hope you’re right about this dude.

    2. October 21, 2007 at

      Heh, I think the Kings’ goaltending deserves more dumping on, not less.

      Like I said, they’re in trouble, and not just because of a couple bad outings during the year. There’s a reason Bernier was starting at the beginning of the year: LaBarbera was god awful all through camp and preseason, getting tuned by European squads from the Austrian league, etc.

      This summer, I would have thought he’d make a decent option, but he’s now been playing more than a month of bad hockey — not two games.

    3. mc79hockey
      October 21, 2007 at

      A month just doesn’t mean anything, put against all of the evidence that he IS a good goalie. I respect that it sucks for the team to have their chances riding on someone who doesn’t have Dan Cloutier’s track record of success but when you’ve got a guy who has a track record, with nothing but AHL and CHL fodder as alternatives, why not just hitch your wagon to him for a while?

    4. October 21, 2007 at

      I’m sure they will (what choice do they have?), but I’m no longer all that certain his abilities are going to translate in the NHL. He’s 27 (28 in January), started just 27 NHL games, and has a career .890 save percentage.

      I can’t think of another decent starter with that pedigree.

    5. lowetide
      October 21, 2007 at

      Tyler,

      How does this guy compare to Conklin in terms of development and how good he was at the time he got the #1 job? I don’t believe in voodoo or anything but do think that players like La Barbara get a much shorter leash.

    6. October 21, 2007 at

      I tuned into Stauffer last week, hoping to learn more about the technical aspect of the Oilers own zone coverage, and heard him promoting Lupul. He brought up his plus/minus as evidence of the Joffer’s wonderfulness.

      Hey now, wait a minute … I distinctly remember hearing Stauffer lecture the unwashed masses on the complete insignificance of plus/minus as applied to wingers. He wasn’t referring to Lupul at the time, it was general chit chat that, by pure coinkydink, helped the cause of his pal.

      Hmmm. Maybe the whole ‘plus/minus doesn’t apply to wingers’ thing only works for the western conference. Ya, that’s it. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

    7. mc79hockey
      October 21, 2007 at

      LT: He has an track record in the minors that absolutely destroys Conklin’s.

      James: As for a guy with a similar track record…look no further than the bad end of Highway 2. That guy had abysmal numbers in the NHL and a great minor league track record when he was acquired.

    8. October 21, 2007 at

      Yeah, abysmal: His .915 save percentage in the one of two years he played 20 games would have put him tied for ninth in the NHL. (The Sharks were the second-worst team in the West his other campaign as backup there.)

      I’m afraid ‘it’s early’ isn’t much of a newsflash. I’m not waiting around until the 40-game mark before offering some thoughts on where the season’s headed.

    9. mc79hockey
      October 21, 2007 at

      (The Sharks were the second-worst team in the West his other campaign as backup there.)

      And if you’d had James Mirtle.com up and running then, you could have been running posts about how the Sharks goaltending was sinking them. His .915 is less impressive than it seems, given that it was in the dead puck era – I’m pretty sure that league average was something like .908 or so. What’s more, if you want to play the “the defence was horrible game”, well I see the 2002-03 San Jose Sharks and raise you the 2005-06 LA Kings.

      LaBarbera’s one fair kick at the can was in the 2005-06 season, the worst season for save percentages since 1995-96 and he posted a .900 playing for the LA Kings. He had a 4 game stint with the Rangers way back when he put up an .820 or so and he’s at .879 this year in 4 games. He has dominated the minors in Kiprusoffian fashion. He deserves a legitimate shot somewhere.

    10. mc79hockey
      October 21, 2007 at

      I’m afraid ‘it’s early’ isn’t much of a newsflash. I’m not waiting around until the 40-game mark before offering some thoughts on where the season’s headed.

      This is the tragedy of sportswriting. “There’s little that can be intelligently said at this point but I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait to pass judgment.”

    11. Bruce
      October 21, 2007 at

      He’s 27 (28 in January), started just 27 NHL games, and has a career .890 save percentage.

      I can’t think of another decent starter with that pedigree.

      My first thought was Dominik Hasek, who had all of 25 GP and an .897 SP at the start of the season he turned 28 in January, although obviously he was of a different pedigree judging by all those trophies he won in the Czech League. But how about the guy on the good end of Highway 2? When Roloson was turning 28 he had 31 games of NHL experience and a SP of .897. It took him another five years before he really made it, but before the lockout (and briefly after it) he was among the elite in the NHL.

      The difference was he got his big chance with the Wild, not the @#$% Kings.

    12. lowetide
      October 21, 2007 at

      You guys. Can’t you be vicious AT ALL?

    13. mc79hockey
      October 21, 2007 at

      Mirtle’s cool. (I hope)

    14. lowetide
      October 21, 2007 at

      lol. It’s refreshing to see two sides of an argument well argued. I’d suggest a friendly wager, though. Make it sporting.

    15. mcullough
      October 22, 2007 at

      Sorry to do this – but can anyone explain the pic of Bruce for this entry? I don’t get the connection, but I also can’t remember the skit this get up goes with.

    16. mculloch
      October 22, 2007 at

      ^^

      Sorry, when I’m drinking I forget my name.

    17. Bruce
      October 22, 2007 at

      ???
      What pic?
      ???

    18. October 22, 2007 at

      I also have LaBarbera in one of my pools (Mirtle Division I), and almost had him in a second, also because of his AHL performance. I hate him, but I’m too proud to trade for one of Mirtle’s 12 goalies.

    19. mcculloch
      October 22, 2007 at

      The picture of Bruce McCulloch in a Kids in The Hall costume, which I assume is not you Bruce.

    20. October 22, 2007 at

      It’s a gleemonex reference, from Brain Candy. Happiness Pie and all that. The first draft of it had more of that but I thought that the picture was fantastic.  There weren’t any flipper baby jokes though…well, there was maybe a few flipper baby jokes.

      In any event, some sort of mood fixing substances would probably be good for some of the people who are a little too worked up about this early season stuff.

    21. October 22, 2007 at

      Good to know re: the Flyers. Their early success didn’t pass the sniff test with me either and I just today bet a friend $5 they won’t be first or second in their division by the end of the year.

    22. October 23, 2007 at

      This is the tragedy of sportswriting. “There’s little that can be intelligently said at this point but I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait to pass judgment.”

      You’re talking about this post right? Maybe we can work in another reference to Lupul’s dismal SHGA/60.

      Hey, I get that you said LaBarbera would be good prior to the season start, and I think I probably wrote something similar at some point. But it’s just not happening, not after what he pulled in camp and preseason. From all accounts, he was just terrible, and forced them to go with a 19-year-old kid who wasn’t ready.

      What’s more, if you want to play the “the defence was horrible game”, well I see the 2002-03 San Jose Sharks and raise you the 2005-06 LA Kings. LaBarbera’s one fair kick at the can was in the 2005-06 season, the worst season for save percentages since 1995-96 and he posted a .900 playing for the LA Kings. He had a 4 game stint with the Rangers way back when he put up an .820 or so and he’s at .879 this year in 4 games. He has dominated the minors in Kiprusoffian fashion. He deserves a legitimate shot somewhere.

      You know what’s interesting about that? I didn’t say LaBarbera was previously “abysmal.” Those were your (untrue) words on Kipper’s pre-Flames history, so I can’t see how proving the other guy was with a god awful team waxes that one away.

      Like I said, I agree he deserved a shot, but he’s almost lost it already. If you’re a goaltender battling for a starter’s role with a couple others, preseason matters, and LaBarbera’s numbers were worse than Cloutier’s (!). I think he had a GAA over six!

      So, who gives a flying fahdoo what he did with the Portland Winter Hawks in 1997 if he can’t stop a beach ball against AHL callups in an exhibition contest?

      I’m in for a wager. LaBarbera gets fewer than 40 starts and has a below .900 save percentage.

      He’s got a nice headstart already.

    23. Devin
      October 24, 2007 at

      James- annnnnnd… Labarbera with the shutout. His SV% is .898 now, so he doesn’t have far to go to hit your target despite his bad start.

    24. October 24, 2007 at

      Little slow on the draw Devin. I was into James about that by about 1:15 last night.

    25. Devin
      October 24, 2007 at

      MC- I don’t know why (maybe your endless pimping) but I am really pulling for LaBarbera. Guys who are clearly accomplished but never really get a chance always get my support. I think he’ll be fine once he settles in in LA. If they get .910 or so out of him I could see them making a late run for 8th.

    26. DamionKutaeff
      March 22, 2008 at

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    27. Dan(lazy)Honnet
      March 25, 2008 at

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    28. November 18, 2008 at

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