• Death, Taxes and Steve Mason Getting Paid

    by  • April 8, 2013 • Hockey • 5 Comments

    I have a sort of enduring fascination with Steve Mason, who has just signed with the Flyers for $1.5MM for the 2013-14 season, because he represents so many things. For one, he’s a data point in the argument that people with NHL gigs make some horrendous mistakes that incorporating data into their work might prevent:

    May 24, 2009:

    Steve Mason posted a .939 save percentage through his first 23 games and .899 thereafter. I know he had mononucleiosis and such but that number should concern Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock. I wonder what kind of odds I could get on “Steve Mason plays at least 10 games in the AHL in 2009-10″.

    I would have lost that bet but not for lack of being right.

    Then there’s this: a graph of Steve Mason’s rolling ten game save percentage throughout his career.

    Mason created an impression in his first twenty odd games. That impression has cost multiple coaches and general managers their jobs. He’s at something close to $9MM in career earnings.

    Look, I’m a believer in markets and in the idea that people shouldn’t be heavily taxed because we want to encourage people to do things that result in them making great gobs of money but my God: if the NDP wants to convince Canadians that markets don’t work and we require the intervention of all-knowing bureaucrats to regulate things and that high taxes are fine because people absolutely don’t earn the money they make, you could do a lot worse than just publishing this graph.

    Of course, a canny free marketer might argue that Mason’s only earned the money’s he’s earned because of the socialism of the NHL and the caps on wages of actual good players in actual good markets – if the NHL didn’t have a salary cap and transfer money to places like Columbus, Mason would never have earned what he’s earned because Columbus wouldn’t have had the money and he wouldn’t be able to get a job in a place like Philadelphia because they’d have a backup who was much better than him.

    In summary, Steve Mason is many things: he’s evidence in support of data, rich, a man who’s cost several people their jobs, a walking argument in support of high taxation/market failure AND the fact that socialism is bad. He is not, however, a good goalie. It’ll be funny as hell if he pulls off an impression of one at some point next year and the Flyers go all in on him though.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    5 Responses to Death, Taxes and Steve Mason Getting Paid

    1. Hambone
      April 8, 2013 at

      I get a shiver down my spine whenever someone muses that Scott Howson could become the next Oilers GM.

    2. Kent Wilson
      April 8, 2013 at

      If anything, men in who make decisions on the NHL are a great respecter of resumes. If you win any sort of award, especially if you’re young, then it’s kinda like winning the Master’s in golf – you get some kind of green jacket in the trophy, a bump in pay, and a de facto 10-year exemption, even if you’re shit.

      And as we’ve seen with GM’s when it comes to goalies in particular, they don’t understand the position (can’t project it at all) and don’t understand the market (consistently overpay for average puckstopping).

    3. Wan Ihite
      April 9, 2013 at

      The fact that sometimes people act unwisely, go broke, and lose money in markets is not an argument against them, it’s part of their natural functioning.

      The critique of markets is that there are times when their immediate competition formula leads to highly sub-optimal outcomes, such as when externalities are involved (i.e., if my factory makes lots of money making paper, but also pumps a lot of toxic crap into the river that gives people cancer in the village over, the market logic is to expand the factory and make even more paper, because it’s making money, while the costs it creates (death, health care, suffering), are all paid by other people. There’s no incentive in the market for me to care if other people suffer, only if I’m being profitable. That’s where you need regulation to step in and force people to pay the costs that they create.

      If there’s a case that the NHL needs socialism it’s probably an argument about short sightedness. The unfettered state of a sports league is that the rich teams will buy all the best players, and that will make them win more, which will make them even richer, which will increase their lock on the best players, which means you get a stable hierarchy of haves and have nots. From the rich team’s point of view this isn’t really a problem in the short run – heck, they make a ton of money, what’s not to like. But you can make a case that it actually hurts them in the long run, because they need those other teams to play against in order to create sufficient drama for anyone to care about them. If Toronto and Detroit the Rags steamroll everyone else for enough years by buying all the talented players (remember, they aren’t fettered by salary caps, drafts, entry level contracts, restricted free agency, any of that – they just write checks to all the best players and there’s nothing anyone else can do about that), then small market teams start closing down. Even places that can support viable teams (say Minnesota, Ottawa) are going to see a drop off in interest, because not only do they lose for a long time, but they transparently have no hope of ever really contending at all.

      If you want to see this in practice look at the Spanish soccer league. Each team negotiates their own TV contract there, and there are few to no restraints on paying or stealing players. The upshot is you have Madrid and Barcelona who are infinitely richer than the rest of the league, and who automatically win every single year, and you have a bunch of hangers on who can never cycle through. You might say that the UK has 4-5 dominant teams which seems better, but they have a very high degree of revenue sharing – TV contracts are negotiated by the league as a whole and then divided out to the teams relatively equally. The products is a league with slightly more competitive parity, and a much bigger worldwide following.

      Hockey with its full on socialism has unbelievably more parity than either of those systems. The list of recent cup winners is broadly varied, and any given year there are quite a number of teams that are viable cup contenders. That probably ultimately helps the league overall, possibly even including the richer teams. You could argue that soccer is more successful than hockey worldwide, but that doesn’t seem down to competitive parity so much as the fact that its so cheap to play that all kids everywhere can do it (you just need one ball and a bunch of people).

    4. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

    5. ziggy mehta
      April 11, 2013 at

      That graph would be a lot more useful if it had the mean & 3-sigma stock bars of the save percentage of the rest of the league’s netminders over the same period of time.

      The fact that most web-based hockey stats (a) don’t seamlessly convert* text data into graphs & charts, (b) wallow in absolute numbers instead of normalized, relative data, and (c) still publish W-L and GAA figures for goalies (a less-than-meaningless exercise) . . . . makes me weep in despair for any hopes of a moneypuck revolution.

      * I’d settle for hyperlinks that download a player’s (or team’s) data in CSV format.

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