• Dynasty Busted

    by  • January 2, 2010 • Uncategorized • 24 Comments

    Stephen Brunt’s won more accolades in his profession than I’ll ever win in mine but stuff like this is terrible:

    By design, the Team Canada hierarchy is a mirror of the wildly successful, collaborative brain trust of the Detroit Red Wings, the single biggest reason why they are near-perennial Stanley Cup contenders even in a dynasty-busting salary cap era.

    The Wings are kind of crap this year – hovering on the cutline of playoff contention, their hopes could go either way. It’s kind of interesting, I think, to look at the share of the salary cap that gets eaten up by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg since the lockout. I’ve put their percentage as a share of the cap beside the number.

    2005-06 – $6.55MM (16.8%)
    2006-07 – $6.55MM (14.9%)
    2007-08 – $9.35MM (18.6%)
    2008-09 – $9.35MM (16.5%)
    2009-10 – $12.78MM (22.5%)

    Obviously, the increase in the cost of Datsyuk/Zetterberg has blown away the increase in the salary cap – these guys make about twice as much now as they did in 2005-06; the salary cap has only increased by about 46% in that time. Their contracts prior to this one were contracts of the type that don’t seem to exist anymore – the sort of mid-value contracts for stars who are restricted free agents.

    If the Wings front office foresaw what seems to me to have been a reduction in the discount that players take while they’re RFA’s, that’s impressive and they deserve a significant amount of credit for protecting the Wings over these past few years by getting these fellows signed to cheap contracts. I’m not entirely convinced that they saw that coming though and, in any event, they’re now running into the cap head on – they have players who need to be paid something approximating market value in order to be retained. If this season has been a look into their future – and I know they’ve suffered injuries – the future doesn’t look all that good.

    The new challenge under this CBA was not finding good hockey players – that was always part of the challenge – it was figuring out a way to do it cheaply and efficiently. The Wings have figured out part of that – they don’t have the goalie habit that so many teams do (there really ought to be a twelve step program for that), which enables them to save some money, although Osgood is looking distinctly finished. Where the Wings have had some luck in that department, they’ve ended up turning around and paying the guy – great for Dan Cleary, but it puts a pinch on the team’s ability to ice a great hockey team because what they really need are three $1MM players who produce like him.

    The Wings have been trending the wrong way since the lockout – goal differentials of +95, +55, +73, +51 and, at present, they’re +1. As I pointed out during the summer, the Wings lost a lot of goal scoring during the offseason, although I didn’t expect them to struggle as much as they have. Here’s what I had to say:

    31 goals is a lot of goals though. Five wins. With that said, if you’re trying to figure out how things changed from the previous season (I would assume that some smart guy could come up with a pretty decent modelling system that would beat the “experts” more often than not), you need to consider more than just the changes; you need to look at the things that are unlikely to repeat.

    In the Wings’ case, that’s probably the goaltending. Detroit had an .894 save percentage last year. The Wings allowed about 2300 shots last year. If they bump it up to a .905 next year – which isn’t unreasonable, given how save percentage swings and is nothing special – they’ve made up most of the decline that they’d suffer in goals for.

    In effect, I was saying that it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that the Wings would get 30 goals better with a bump in save percentage. As it so happens, that’s largely come to pass so far – the Wings have seen their save percentage improve from last year’s .894 to a .912, which is certainly respectable. The problem is that falloff in offence has been a lot worse than expected – they’re on pace to score 207 goals, 88 fewer than last year, which is not offset by the fact that they’re on pace to allow only 205, 35 fewer than last season.

    The cause of the falloff in goal scoring is arguable – the Wings have seen some key players suffer some key injuries this year. What’s inarguable is that the salary cap played a significant role in it – the Wings lost a ton of players last summer and were not well placed to deal with injury problems. As bright as their management group might be – and it seems to me to be sort of a fad thing, like the idea of ghost rosters with roles that was so popular with Team Canada’s in the 1990′s and led to Shayne Corson and Rob Zamuner going to the Olympics – they’re in the process of becoming another casualty of the salary cap.

    So Brunt is wrong: the single biggest reason that the Wings are near-perennial Cup contenders is not, as far as I can tell, the ability of their management team. They had some players signed to nice deals that enabled them to spend the money those players ought to have been getting elsewhere, bolstering their team. The salary cap caught up with them (coincidentally, right around the time they had to pay market value for those players) and the Wings are, for the time being, just another team.

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    24 Responses to Dynasty Busted

    1. Triumph
      January 2, 2010 at

      “So Brunt is wrong: the single biggest reason that the Wings are near-perennial Cup contenders is not, as far as I can tell, the ability of their management team. They had some players signed to nice deals that enabled them to spend the money those players ought to have been getting elsewhere, bolstering their team.”

      This seems like a pretty silly statement – I mean, this is what good management is built on, no? I also still think it was a pretty massive coup to get 2 of Zetterberg, Franzen, and Hossa signed – I did not expect that to happen. I also think it’s worth noting that Datsyuk and Zetterberg’s s% is inordinately low. In any event, salary cap or no, it’s usually worthwhile to lock up young talent to long contracts that are of low to moderate risk with high reward. Valteri Filippula was given one of these as well.

      The Wings’ breakdown has been a combination of factors – a lack of talent ready to step in on scorelines, a large talent exodus due to the salary cap (and the Siren’s song of the KHL), and the decline of Rafalski and Lidstrom. The Wings aren’t immune to the salary cap obviously; they aren’t plucking franchise players from the bottom rounds anymore, and once Lidstrom leaves, the Wings are probably a mid-grade playoff team.

      Even so, Tomas Tatar has 17 points in 22 games as an 18/19 year old in the AHL, so reports of their demise may be greatly exaggerated.

      The Wings seem to be getting the short straw this season wrt luck, they’re even in goal differential despite outshooting the opposition by 200 and they’ve had a lot of injuries – I think your original post on the Wings is just as relevant.

    2. mc79hockey
      January 2, 2010 at

      You get good deals in two ways in the NHL: a) Management identifies guys who aren’t appropriately priced by the market and b) the CBA keeps player’s prices low. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were CBA cheap.

      They’ve done well with the long term deals, although they carry a lot of risk with those and the players are still getting their money.

      I guess my point is that it’s easy to pay millions of dollars to superstars – you don’t need to be a brilliant manager to do that. It’s a good play. It’s even easier to pay them less when they’re in the salary controlled phase of their career; it’s not a reflection on your talent as a manager.

      I don’t doubt that the Wings are getting the short end of the bounces this year – you’re right, that goal differential “should” translate to +10 to +20. The thing of it is though, I still think my point is right that the reason they were so strong wasn’t so much management as the fact that they had Z and Dats supercheap. I don’t think that was a managerial accomplishment.

    3. Triumph
      January 2, 2010 at

      You get good deals in two ways in the NHL: a) Management identifies guys who aren’t appropriately priced by the market and b) the CBA keeps player’s prices low. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were CBA cheap.

      well, there’s also the matter of entry level contracts, which i really don’t think can or should be ignored. but leaving that aside -

      condition ‘a’ is damn near impossible to apply consistently – i can’t think of a team in the NHL that doesn’t have a few long-term stinkers on their ledger. surely you are familiar with the winner’s curse, which governs most free agent dealings. is brian rafalski going to be worth 6 million dollars in 2011-12? of course not, but how much did the Wings increase the possibility of their winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and 2009 by doing so?

      condition ‘b’ is far, far more important than you give it credit for being – jordan staal and milan lucic will each have a bigger cap hit next season than zach parise. i suspect condition ‘b’ can have a snowball effect, whereby Player X is assured that if he signs for cheaper now with a winning team, he will make more when he is unrestricted.

      I guess my point is that it’s easy to pay millions of dollars to superstars – you don’t need to be a brilliant manager to do that. It’s a good play. It’s even easier to pay them less when they’re in the salary controlled phase of their career; it’s not a reflection on your talent as a manager.

      but what is hard is convincing talented people to stick around for less money, and detroit has managed to do that, whereas other organizations have tended to be less successful in this regard.

      i just disagree that it’s not a managerial achievement to have two superstar level players signed for far less than their performance dictates. it absolutely is, and by diminishing that accomplishment, where, exactly can you give NHL GMs credit for anything besides the odd rich peverley waiver find?

    4. January 2, 2010 at

      The Wings are kind of crap this year – hovering on the cutline of playoff contention, their hopes could go either way.

      If by “go either way” you mean “significant favorites to make the playoffs and, if healthy come playoff time, likely to give the Hawks a serious run for their money”, I completely agree.

      Yes of course it’s hard to have continued success in a league that’s structured to enforce parity. And yes it surely takes good luck, particularly with injuries.

      But for the life of me I can’t see how one can find much fault with the Wings’ organization.

      1) The players they are paying top dollar are actually WORTH top dollar. Datsyuk, Zet, Lidstrom, Rafalski – these guys are likely actually underpaid. Compare them to the guys other teams are paying that kind of money to.

      2) As sick as Detroit’s top guns are, the Wings’ depth is almost just as impressive. Their third line probably has similar underlying numbers as several teams’ first lines.

      3) Detroit seemed to make a cognizant decision to load up on depth in favor of overpaying for goaltending. I thought the Conklin signing they made a couple seasons ago was brilliant. Osgood is what he is, fine. Again, compare what the Wings are paying their goaltenders to what other teams are paying.

      As for their “falloff” this season, the Wings currently have the second best EV shot attempt numbers in the NHL and are first in special teams shot attempt numbers by a fairly wide margin. Most teams would kill to “falloff” to those numbers.

    5. January 3, 2010 at

      Whoops,

      3) …”in favor of” should read “instead of”

    6. Hawerchuk
      January 3, 2010 at

      Sunny – I agree on #1. What does a win cost in the UFA market in the NHL? $4M? Lidstrom’s probably been worth $15M at times.

      It seems odd in that context not to get one of the best goaltenders in the league.

    7. January 3, 2010 at

      Hawerchuk,

      It seems odd in that context not to get one of the best goaltenders in the league.

      Imo it’s not odd at all. We’re about halfway through the season right now, and the distribution of corsi Sv% looks identical to what would be expected by chance alone. I.e. – in even a sample size of half a year, there’s no discernible “skill” amongst the population of NHL goaltenders.

      If I were an NHL GM, there’s no fucking way I’d spend any kind of money on goaltending. I’d trust my scouts to pick me out a couple guys who belong to the population, and I’d pay them as little as possible.

      I can’t understand why one would bet big money on something in which there is so much uncertainty and randomness wrt true equity or “edge”. To boot, if the equity exists it takes so much time to realize, that most of the utility is lost.

      Just to cherry pick a couple of examples:

      Huet makes more than Phil Kessel and Ryan Getzlaf. Ryan Miller makes more than Zetterberg. Lundqvist makes almost as much as Thorton.

      Maybe I’m off my rocker, but those all seem fucking batty to me. What is the probability that Lundqvist outperforms Antti Niemi (an 800k player) compared to the probability that Thorton outperforms Marc Pouliot. Again, I know I’m cherry picking examples, but you get my point.

      I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

    8. IAmJoe
      January 3, 2010 at

      MC79 -

      Its not often that I think you’re off the mark entirely, but I think this is one. I don’t think your definitions of what constitutes good management are correct here. You’re not allowing for the ability of management to get people to sign for less than market value (you can’t honestly tell me guys like Lidstrom, Datsyuk, etc. wouldn’t make more on the open market), and you’ve said many times with regard to the Oilers that you can’t win if you pay everyone market value. The Red Wings are giving money to the people who deserve it, but they’re still coming in under market value in many cases. To create a situation in which players are okay with taking less money than they otherwise could’ve, one of two possiblities exist: 1) The players (and their agents) are retarded, 2) Management is doing something right, and are able to give players something important to mitigate their smaller paychecks. Whether that be commitment to building a winning team, free beer, or whatever, the Red Wings management has obviously been doing something right the last several years in being able to get some talent for below market value.

      As for the cap situation, from which many other problems stem, that I think is certainly management’s fault, in part. You can say how management should’ve left themselves a little more room to work with, they should’ve given themselves more flexibility, etc. etc., but I don’t think you can blame a hockey team for not seeing the Wall Street crash coming and stagnating revenues following. Sure, it wasn’t realistic to expect cap increases like we saw the first couple years out of the lockout, but to see the cap not rise at all, or possibly even fall? I don’t know that they could’ve foreseen that and left themselves the flexibility they needed, while still having the success they’ve had since the lockout. By the time such a thing could’ve been foreseen, it was too late, due to the nature of guaranteed contracts. Really, the only offseason in which they could’ve done much to try to give themselves more flexibility, having known the cap was going to stop or even fall, was this past offseason, and at that point, they were already so far in that it was all they could do to keep their heads above water at all.

      I also don’t think you’re being fair in terms of assessing the puck luck that the Wings have had so far this year. The team has been ravaged by injury, and while part of the problem may be pinned on management for a lack of depth to handle injuries, a large part of the problem also can be attributed to several consecutive playoff runs (WCF, SCF, SCF), which certainly speaks to management’s success in building a team. Having played the equivalent of 3/4 of a season or so over the last 3 seasons has probably put a few extra miles on some tires, and at some point, that would catch up. Combine the injuries with some just plain bad luck, and whatever effects may come from starting your season on another continent, and it just seems like the product of bad luck, injuries, and other assorted things, which all happened at the same time, and at a time in which the salary cap stagnated, inhibiting flexibility with which to deal with such problems.

      Sure, you can give management some of the blame (though I don’t think you can give them all of it) for the current cap situation, but the fact is that with all of this working against them, this team is sitting around the playoff cutoff. You figure in better health, better bounces, whatever, and suddenly this team is a pretty decent playoff team. Not at the top of the conference, but they’re in the 4-5 spot, I think. That’s pretty decent, on its own. More so, when you consider the position management was in this summer. When you throw in a WCF appearance (which could’ve easily gone the other way), a SCF win, and a SCF game 7, I can’t understand how you can say the team’s management is worthless.

      If the Red Wings’ management is so worthless, and they’ve been so successful since the lockout, what does that say about every other management group? I love the long promoted idea here and elsewhere that management in the big leagues is often pretty stupid themselves, but there are successes out there, and by almost every metric you can think of, the Red Wings have been successful.

    9. Triumph
      January 3, 2010 at

      You are comparing RFA contracts to UFA contracts, Sunny, a no-no in my book – by the same token, you can do the old Wade Redden paid more than Shea Weber, etc. The real issue, leaving aside the fact that signing a proven goaltender is almost always a thumbs-up PR move, is that it’s not that easy to get goaltending talent in season. If your stable of random goalies falters, there’s not usually some other goaltender to turn to elsewhere. A situation like this can torpedo a season and/or seriously jeopardize a playoff run.

      What’s funny about all of this is that somehow the trade market understands the true worth of goalies, but the contracts handed out to goalies say otherwise.

    10. Hawerchuk
      January 3, 2010 at

      I was a bit imprecise. Given what we know about Osgood (.900-.905 true talent goaltender), wouldn’t it make more sense to sign somebody who they can at least convince themselves is a league-average goaltender? The marginal cost is $1M or so; the marginal benefit is at least a win.

    11. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      but what is hard is convincing talented people to stick around for less money, and detroit has managed to do that, whereas other organizations have tended to be less successful in this regard.

      Have they really? It strikes me that most of their guys have market value-ish deals. They might be able to get more elsewhere but you can say that about most stars in the NHL, I think. Just off the top of my head, Thornton and Iginla could probably both have demanded more elsewhere.

      i just disagree that it’s not a managerial achievement to have two superstar level players signed for far less than their performance dictates. it absolutely is, and by diminishing that accomplishment, where, exactly can you give NHL GMs credit for anything besides the odd rich peverley waiver find?

      Yeah – you’d have to sell me on them being paid far less, taking into account when they signed.

    12. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      Sunny and Gabe – I need to look at the Wings performance more closely. I don’t think that they really lost 80 goals, although I do think that they got worse. I probably should have taken a closer look before posting. I do, however, think that the expected mean of their performance in a league where we can play this season a million times is probably lower than it’s been in the past fifteen years.

    13. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      What does a win cost in the UFA market in the NHL? $4M? Lidstrom’s probably been worth $15M at times.

      What’s the basis for this estimate Gabe?

    14. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      I can’t understand why one would bet big money on something in which there is so much uncertainty and randomness wrt true equity or “edge”. To boot, if the equity exists it takes so much time to realize, that most of the utility is lost.

      I dunno. I can see it with the elite guys – Luongo, Vokoun, Brodeur (it kills me to say that) for example. It kills me when the guys who are mid-market types get signed for big bucks because I agree with you – there’s no way to expect anything there.

    15. January 3, 2010 at

      I do, however, think that the expected mean of their performance in a league where we can play this season a million times is probably lower than it’s been in the past fifteen years.

      As written, that statement may be 100 percent true. I just think what might be more significant is if that means they’ve slipped from like 99th percentile to 98th or whatever.

    16. January 3, 2010 at

      I can see it with the elite guys – Luongo, Vokoun, Brodeur

      Yeah, I’m admittedly unsure of this. I think you’re probably right, but lately it seems like the more I look at the distributions the more I find myself leaning towards the renegade path of there being absolutely no discernible skill in goaltending.

      Here’s what I suggest. We get the last three seasons worth of data. We compile all goaltenders’ on-ice corsi Sv% at ES w/score close, and we examine the distribution.

    17. Hawerchuk
      January 3, 2010 at

      What does a win cost in the UFA market in the NHL? $4M? Lidstrom’s probably been worth $15M at times.

      What’s the basis for this estimate Gabe?

      2008-09: (91 pts * 30 teams)/$1.888B = $1.38M/pt

      1 win = $2.76M
      1 win from a UFA ~ $4M???

      Lidstrom 05-06 w/ 28 mins TOI was worth at least 4 WAR, if not 5 or 6. $15M is a ballpark given the present poor state of our ability to value individual players. Does it sound high?

    18. Hawerchuk
      January 3, 2010 at

      Ah shit, I lost a factor of two there when i decided to switch from wins to points. Dammit.

      Anyways, Lidstrom has probably produced $10-$12M in many years.

    19. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      I dunno, I value the points differently – I think in terms of marginal points and come up with a price of about $880K/marginal point for last year; it’d be slightly more this year.

      At that, a marginal win is worth $1.76MM. I have not a guess as to how many WAR Lidstrom has produced but I think it’s probably a good bet to make that he’s been a value FA. Again, though, I think that probably all of the elite FA’s are probably value buys.

    20. Hawerchuk
      January 3, 2010 at

      I think you’re doing that correctly. I just wanted to come up with a ballpark value for UFAs – it’s well over $1M/point, no?

    21. Triumph
      January 3, 2010 at

      At that, a marginal win is worth $1.76MM. I have not a guess as to how many WAR Lidstrom has produced but I think it’s probably a good bet to make that he’s been a value FA. Again, though, I think that probably all of the elite FA’s are probably value buys.

      true, but that still doesn’t necessitate lidstrom staying in detroit when he could certainly have gotten more money elsewhere.

    22. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      I just wanted to come up with a ballpark value for UFAs – it’s well over $1M/point, no?

      That’s an interesting and complicated question. I think that you’re right that they’re over $1MM/point but I’d be willing to bet that the individual values are all over the place and I would guess that any reasonable expectations when the contracts are signed would have them all over the place. I don’t get the sense that there’s a very coherent market. My guess is that the value buys are the very top end and the bottom end, with the guys in the middle probably not being worth it or, at the very least, being very expensive and possibly not worth what they get.

    23. mc79hockey
      January 3, 2010 at

      true, but that still doesn’t necessitate lidstrom staying in detroit when he could certainly have gotten more money elsewhere.

      Sure, but I think that NHLer’s have basically said that once they’re at $7MM, they’re content. Very few of them have chased that money elsewhere when they could get it somewhere where they are already happy. Lots of team’s management groups seem able to produce conditions of contentment.

    24. January 8, 2010 at

      I can see it with the elite guys – Luongo, Vokoun, Brodeur (it kills me to say that) for example.

      Martin Brodeur is an elite goaltender? Who knew?

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