• Memo To Carl Gunnarson’s Agent

    by  • June 8, 2010 • Uncategorized • 18 Comments

    On my list of things to do is to go to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. It’s a shame it’s not a month or two later or I’d tie it into a Red Sox road trip without difficulty. Anyway, they’ve posted the videos of this year’s conference on their site. Brian Burke appeared on the Next Generation Sports Management and Ownership panel and offered this:

    “Our talent evaluation system doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis as much as it does in other sports. Film doesn’t have the same value in our sports as much as it does in other sports because the game is so much less predictable…Every year I get probably five papers from kids at MIT, Harvard and Duke and they say that they’ve come up with a new system for evaluating players. You go through it and you realize that it doesn’t lend itself to the analysis of what we need to do to pick a player, when we draft a player. We try to identify a lot of things that don’t lend themselves to statistical analysis and they’re very team related. So someone’ll say ‘Well this guy has the best +/- in the league’; well, if you’re on a good team, you’re going to have a positive +/-. It’s a meaningless statistic, unless you’re on a horseshit team and you have a decent +/-, then it might mean something. We don’t do as much statistical analysis as they do in baseball, for example.”

    Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, chimed in with: “I detect opportunity. The first person to convince Brian Burke will be the next big thing in hockey on the analytics side.”

    Vic’s speculated recently that Burke might be trying to develop some statistical stuff. While I don’t know either way, it always strikes me that it’d be an awful lot of effort to come up with something like Burke’s statement above if you secretly had a department that looked into this stuff.

    Gunnarson, by the way, had a +/- of +8 this year on what could probably be fairly described as a horseshit team. If you’re a reader of this site, you probably instinctively say “Sure, but what was his PDO?” and you’d be unsurprised to learn it was 1018 and that the next highest Leaf was Luke Schenn at 1000. If you’re his agent and you know that Burke thinks there might be something to having a good +/- on a horseshit team, you’ll be beating that drum hard in negotiations. Particularly if Burke isn’t aware of the volatility of PDO and how it drives +/-.

    Burke talked a little bit about why he supports a hard cap as well:

    When I was in Vancouver, we were a 100 point team my last four years there, we were in the playoffs every year…We never got out of the first round because we were playing teams with payrolls that were dramatically higher than ours. I remember, the first year we made the playoffs there, our star player was Markus Naslund and Markus, two days after the trading deadine, broke his leg and I’ve never forgiven him for not breaking it before the trade deadline so I could try to replace him. We played the Colorado Avalanche and our number one centre blew out his knee and we dressed $22MM for game one and the first power play unit that Colorado put out on the ice was $45MM. We had less than half of that on the whole bench and we got our asses kicked. We lost four straight.

    It probably warrants mentioning that Vancouver lost three of those games to Colorado by one goal. In its early days, Baseball Prospectus argued pretty vehemently that a salary cap was unnecessary because teams could earn an advantage by being smarter. Given that all of this stuff is, ultimately, not that difficult to figure out and there to be understood by anyone who wanted to, it always seemed to me that there was a problem in that, once everyone had the same basic level of understanding, the money would win out.

    I don’t think hockey’s there now and I certainly don’t think it was there in 2000-01. Burke put together a nice team in Vancouver but he wasted his share of money doing so. Of the four series his team lost while he was GM of the Canucks, they had the bigger budget in two of those losses: in 2002-03 against Minnesota and in 2003-04 against Calgary. Those teams had good goalies though; Burke didn’t and the Canucks paid the price.

    H/T: Tango and (oddly enough) Brian Burke.


    18 Responses to Memo To Carl Gunnarson’s Agent

    1. kerry
      June 8, 2010 at

      I’ll just point out that Burke gives a shoutout to Larry Gilman of the Canucks during his talk, which would imply that the Canucks are interested in this conference, which would once again confirm my suspicions that the Canucks are a much more analytical team than the Oilers, and you, “Tyler” wish the Oilers were run the same way.

    2. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      I don’t get it. I’ve always said that the Canucks were an analytical team. And my name IS Tyler.

    3. June 8, 2010 at

      Mirtle asked me about Gunarsson during the regular season.

      Seems my response wasn’t terribly popular in some corners in Toronto, but that’s the way it goes.

    4. June 8, 2010 at

      Hey “Tyler”, that’ll teach you!

      Interesting stuff. I’d have to think that Burke is a little smarter than that. Don’t know why though, just my general optimism I guess.

      I absolutely beleive in the hard cap though. There is a lot to be said about being smarter but if your budget is half that of your competition or even three quarters of it then you have a lot less margin for error or for simple bad luck. I remember a similar situation, I think it may have been Oilers v. Wings and the Wings put out a five man unit who along with the goalie (Joseph maybe?) made more money than all of the Oilers combined.

      Now obviously you have a club like the Rangers that could not even make the playoffs with 80-90 million dollar payrolls but still the advantage was a little too pronounced for my liking. I prefer my leagues to have a little more balance.

      Its like the EPL – Spurs finished in the top four this year – they were both smart and lucky. Probably not going to be as lucky next year and all it will take is a bad move or two and they are out of the running. Meanwhile Chelsea, Man U, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal can all spend wads more although the debt that some of those clubs carry is starting to have an impact.

      I’d love to see you go to that conference though and do some writeups. I think that would be great.


    5. Traktor
      June 8, 2010 at

      Burke’s boldness hasn’t benefited the Buds.

    6. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      Give it time. I still think that the Kessel move was defensible and I’d bet money on the Leafs making the playoffs next year if I was given even odds.

    7. Passive Voice
      June 9, 2010 at

      I suspect Burke is getting his obfuscation on. I’ll freely admit that I have an embarrassing weakness for conspiracy theories, but “…[hockey] doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis …Film doesn’t have the same value…as much as it does in other sports because the game is so much less predictable…Every year I get probably five papers from kids at MIT, Harvard and Duke and they say that they’ve come up with a new system for evaluating players…we try to identify a lot of things that don’t lend themselves to statistical analysis and they’re very team related. So someone’ll say ‘Well this guy has the best +/- in the league’; well, if you’re on a good team, you’re going to have a positive +/-. It’s a meaningless statistic, unless you’re on a horseshit team and you have a decent +/-, then it might mean something. We don’t do as much statistical analysis as they do in baseball…” just sounds to me like “we’ve got some good shit, and we’re not about to let retard teams get it for free. I’ma make it sound like +/- is as far as hockey’s come, statistically-speaking, and everything else is a bewildering maze.” I’ve gotta think every half-decent general manager in the world took two important messages from Moneyball: one, that there are inefficiencies in sports that can be exploited to great success, and two, that if you let a fucking bestselling book get written about you and your exploits, your competitive advantage is gonna disappear with hilarious speed.

      I know if I were a GM and had a department devoted to anything statistical, I’d be showing up in Cambridge at least once a year and more or less telling my hosts to quit trying to give my goddamn goodies away. I’d also make a big-ass deal in public about the importance of clutchness and determination truculence and a winner’s winning winfulness.

    8. RiversQ
      June 9, 2010 at

      I think Passive Voice nailed it. If you are going to show up to a conference like this from a sports team and try to present something of value, the key would be to cultivate the image of a total nutcase.

      Totally dismissive like Burke or crazed lunacy – there should be no in-between unless you don’t give a hoot about your team. The former is disinformation and probably the safest approach. It’s really a perfect fit for Bruke – he gets to be a blowhard and advance his interests at the same time. That’s probably going on his tombstone.

    9. June 9, 2010 at

      “Pat” – Spurs’ ascension into the top four has more to do with the vast wads of money they have spent over the past couple of seasons.

      I might be wrong but I think they’ve spent the most on transfer fees over the past two seasons and their wage bill is in the top four in the league.

      “Tyler” – I have to agree with “Passive Voice”. Burke’s a lot of things but I HOPE willfully ignorant isn’t one of them.

    10. Hawerchuk
      June 9, 2010 at

      Everybody should take a look at a Chris Snow interview some time. You know Minnesota has a huge analytics team, and yet Chris gives the most obfuscated answers you can imagine and often makes it sounds like they’re running a fantasy team.

    11. June 9, 2010 at

      Snow got the axe recently.

    12. Traktor
      June 9, 2010 at

      I would love to here your rational behind the Leafs making the playoffs next year.

      - thinnest talent up front in the entire NHL
      - high priced D with huge question marks
      - goalie depth a mile wide and an inch deep
      - gigantic pressure not to give Boston another lottery pick (if whoever Boston takes gets off with a hot start its going to be a huge story)

      Don’t tell me you’ve bought into the Bozak, Kadri and Hanson hype…

    13. Traktor
      June 9, 2010 at


    14. Quain
      June 9, 2010 at

      Going to have to agree with Traktor. I think Giguere is primed to be, at least, league average, but after that any good signs from this season seem pretty impossible to apply to next year given that they catapulted a huge portion of their top six out of town.

      Reaching the playoffs is going to rely on whether they can make an effective splash in free agency, but given the depth of their needs and the shallow pool, I wouldn’t be terribly hopeful.

      Then again, the East is pretty godawful, so who knows.

    15. June 9, 2010 at

      It’ll definitely be tough. Up front the Leafs have a two-time 30 goal scorer in Kessel and a lot of kids.

      The defence, on paper, is pretty good but that hasn’t helped over the past two years.

      The biggest chance at change is going to come in goal. Getting league average goaltending would be a MASSIVE boost to a team that had a sv% below .890 last year.

    16. Passive Voice
      June 9, 2010 at

      Some Chris Snow quotes from an interview about a year ago:

      “To that extent, I don’t think it’s as radical as it’s portrayed to be in that book. What I want to do, what we want to do, what a lot of baseball teams have decided to do since then … I don’t think any of us who sit where I do want to entirely change the way we do things because it’s hard to project players. It comes down to personality, it comes to performance in so-called “big games,” it comes down to playing through injuries, it’s doctors projecting whether a kid has finished growing. There are so many factors, and the statistical factor is one, but by no means is it overriding anything else.”

      “I would say the we use the statistics to ask questions. So, if we have a guy who, over three to four years in a number of categories — the usual ones, goals, assists, points, ice time — we can look at those and say, oh, well this guy has actually declined over the last four years consistently. Maybe we didn’t quite realize what that decline looked like. The statistics help us to ask questions, they help us to perhaps avoid mistakes at times, but they are not the initial starting metric.”

      “We think Niklas is a tremendous goaltender, and we would not have paid him if we didn’t believe that, but I agree with your point that it is difficult to compare a goaltender on our team, to a Vokoun as you mentioned. It’s harder to compare those guys. You would have to really look at where the shots came from, and the quality of shots if you really wanted to rank the goalies accurately.”

      He’s either, as I suspect, playing dumb like Burkie above, or he’s an honest-to-goodness moron. The only thing that surprised me about his quotes was that he didn’t say something about Niklas Backstrom’s win totals.


    17. YKOil
      June 9, 2010 at

      Never underestimate the ability of the Eastern Conference to have more than 7 bad teams.

      Which means the extra ones make the playoffs.

    18. Hawerchuk
      June 10, 2010 at

      @Passive Voice -

      If you take Chris’ statements at face value, then you can’t think positive thoughts about him. But I think it’s just BS to cover something a bit more substantial.

      As for Backstrom…I don’t think anybody knows what he’s worth. Is he 2007-09 good? Or is 2009-10 more like it and his previous successes were Lemaire’s creation?

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