• “The Grass Is Always Greener” Is Not To Be Taken Literally

    by  • November 8, 2013 • Hockey • 11 Comments

    Busy Friday for the Oilers, with more possibly to come. I’m going to talk about the Ilya Bryzgalov signing first. It’s likely to be a one year deal at reasonable bucks so it’s hard to get too worked up about it from that perspective. As it so happens, I’d been reading some of the caterwauling about Devan Dubnyk today and I happened to have put together a graph.

    The graph shows the rolling ten game save percentages of the twenty goalies who played at least 100 games between 2010-13 with an overall save percentage of between .910 and .920. Those are basically your league average starting goalies right there. Dubnyk’s the big orange line and Bryzgalov’s the big blue line.

    Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 7.27.25 PM

    There’s a link to a larger version here. There’s not really anything you can draw from this except that league average goalies go through ten game streaks where they look elite and ten game streaks where they look like AHLers. That’s hockey.

    My basic belief is that nobody can pick when a guy’s going to be good or bad or predict when a good or bad streak will end. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong but the NHL has historically been littered with goalies who were acquired for nothing and played great (Bryzgalov in Phoenix) or acquired for a lot and played awful (Bryzgalov in Philadelphia). If you assume that NHL types try to behave rationally, the only conclusion you can draw with respect to goalies is that they pay for differences that aren’t there or that they can’t consistently identify with any accuracy.

    In the abstract, I don’t dislike this move. I’m fine with quirky people and if Dubnyk and Bryzgalov are the duo going forward, the Oilers have better goaltending than with a due of Jason Labarbera and Dubnyk. That being said, it’s hard not to conclude that the Oilers are reacting to a ten game stretch and, as much as I think they’ve got a smart group running things, I don’t believe that they, or anyone, have the capacity to tell too much based on ten games of goaltending.

    * * *

    The trading of Ladislav Smid is a more difficult thing for me to suss out. The Oilers included Olivier Roy in the deal and got back Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit. Horak’s a 22 year old centre who can’t make the Calgary Flames and Brossoit’s a goalie in the ECHL. I don’t read too much into the ECHL thing – the Flames needed to give Brossoit some starts and it makes sense to have a legitimate prospect getting starts, even if they’re in the ECHL. This is a sort of common thing in soccer – Joe Hart, currently England’s number one, spent time with Blackpool when they were in England’s third division – and I wholeheartedly approve of it. That being said, the guy was a sixth round draft pick and, well, goalies.

    So it doesn’t really seem like a heck of a lot coming back to the Oilers for Ladislav Smid. You have to sort of feel for Smid a little bit because he’s yet another guy who’s learned an uncomfortable truth: taking a hometown discount and not getting an NTC is not a very savvy move. If Smid had been able to pick his team last summer, I doubt that he’d have picked Calgary and now he gets the pleasure of participating in their rebuild, which is about four years behind Edmonton’s, without the corresponding compensation of having received absolute top dollar for it.

    On a certain level, I get this move. The Oilers have four defencemen who they probably rate in front of Smid: Anton Belov, Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry. Smid’s signed for four years. They wanted to make their goaltending better. They have more defencemen coming. It’s pretty easy to see how they conclude that Smid’s their 5D at the moment and that his spot on the depth chart doesn’t look likely to improve. If Smid’s on their third pairing, then they’re spending too much on him. That’d be the thinking, I suspect.

    Of course, Smid’s probably a better bet to be a top four defenceman three or four years from now than Andrew Ference is. And if you’re under the salary cap, it really doesn’t matter what you’re spending on a specific position, until you want to re-allocate that money.

    Two points of some interest, I think. First, there’s an interesting lesson in here about how salary dictates player value under this CBA. Surely, Smid could have returned a second round draft pick at last year’s trade deadline and quite possibly a first round pick. What the Oilers got is less than that.

    A new contract, even a new contract that pays him less than he would have got as a UFA and his value shrinks dramatically. It’s not just a matter of finding someone who likes Smid, it’s a matter of finding someone with the salary cap room who sees him in their top four. It’s not enough that he’s a better defenceman than many; the price wipes him of any value.

    There’s a soccer book called Soccernomics that talks about the cost of management churn. Part of the cost relates to a new manager coming in and wanting to get rid of some players and buy some new ones. The previous regime’s guys are sold at a loss and the cycle starts again. With Smid, the Oilers sold him now for less than they could have under the old regime.

    The second point is really what this is all about. It’s a reallocation of resources. The Oilers made themselves thinner on defence in order to re-allocate some resources to goaltender. I’m skeptical that it makes sense – there will be injuries to the Oilers defence and I don’t think you can reasonably expect Bryzgalov to be any better than Dubnyk. You can probably reasonably expect him to be a bit of an upgrade on Labarbera and that’s nice but it’s a small difference.

    Does any of this make the Oilers any better? I doubt it. Smid’s a housecleaning move, in that they don’t really see him in the long term plans, and the gain in the goaltending is small. Hopefully the additional roster spot and cap space is used well in 2014-17.

    A final note on Smid: he took a lot of grief early in his career for reasons that probably weren’t fair – it wasn’t his fault that he was the less awful tangible part of the Pronger return in 2006-07 or that he was forced into a situation that he wasn’t prepared for. He became a decent defenceman, even if not what was envisioned. Over the years in Edmonton, he fought and blocked shots and (very occasionally) contributed some offence. Hopefully the Flames turn him into something else that doesn’t help their rebuild and he enjoys some team success in the future.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    11 Responses to “The Grass Is Always Greener” Is Not To Be Taken Literally

    1. v
      November 8, 2013 at

      maybe they looked at this graph and concluded that whenever one goalie is playing badly, the other is playing great, and thus they can always be at the top of one of those 10 game rolling curves! genius plan by math wizards in edmonton!

    2. Dangilitis
      November 8, 2013 at

      Haha that is a hilarious coincidence.

      But where in this graph does that big orange line plummet down to a level matched by only a few goalies in this time span, and then plateau for a little? Presuming its a 10 game rolling average, he’s sucked for 9 of his 11 games, so it will stay down there for a while and you still have it at the time that he was at 0.920. I have been a big Dubnyk supporter but he has sucked at a level that is rare to be at for a decent NHL starter (even the graph doesn’t lie), and while he got better for 2 games, he has come back from his minor injury in the same shape that he started the year at. I think there is cause for concern and I hope you prove me wrong because my faith is starting to be tested here as well.

    3. TheOtherJohn
      November 9, 2013 at

      Not sure but that Oiler management focused on today’s “fix” not thinking through whole year and next couple of years. We haven’t played the big boys of the Western Conference yet (3 games total so far). Expect Smid is particularly helpful in those 25+ games or so. Do not expect that JSchultz, Larsen, Fedun or Belov are going to like playing the big boys of WC. As undersized Ference ages, he will like big boys less and less.

      The Smid return: measly but is also an admission that amateur scouting drafted absolutely bupkis for prospect goaltenders. Said it on Lowetide’s site: Chet Pickard is the Colten Tuebert of prospect goalies: better at 18 than he is today

    4. chris
      November 9, 2013 at

      Excellent point about salaries dictating value. Self-evident but not stressed enough in most discussion

    5. Henry
      November 9, 2013 at

      It will be interesting to see if Burke decides to trade Smid for a first at the deadline.

    6. mah
      November 10, 2013 at

      Disagree with trading Smid. You have to trim the fat, and Smid wasn’t fat in this instance, not even close especially when you consider the Oilers situation. I know I’m probably philosophically opposed to the Oilers wet dream speed and skill re-enactment, but I’ll go ahead anyways.

      You keep Smid because he’s a serviceable stay-at-home defenseman that provides structure to a team. I’m pretty confident Smid can be at least a third pairing stay at home D for a Cup contender, anything better is gravy. And 3.5 million is going to be pretty much the going rate even for your solid third pair D, Matt Greene makes 2.95 mil now and he’ll get a raise probably. With Smid and Ference you got your two solid shutdown guys on the backend. J. Schultz can be a top 4 puck moving D, it’d be nice if he sussed out his defensive issues, but let’s call it a puck-mover in top 4 maybe if all goes horribly wrong you can still play him as a PP specialist on the third pair. Belov, Schultz, Petry…. where do you see this guys on a competitive team? They are non-descript defensemen, the kind that bounce around on poor teams because somebody has to eat up the minutes. Petry is alright, but he ain’t gonna be a puck-mover nor a shut-down defenseman on a good team. Trading Smid because you have Belov and Schultz and Petry on the depth-chart? Cmon. Guarantee you none of those are going to play a role on a contending team. Petry? He’s not going to play shutdown and he’s not a good enough puck mover to play any kind of prominent role on a contender. As far as I see it Smid, Ference, J. Schultz should have been the three guys I could see in the distant future where the Oilers are a good team. Add Nurse, add Klefbom maybe and you’re starting to get somewhere. You got a bit of shutdown capabilities in Ference, Smid and Klefbom. And you got a bit of puck-moving in Schultz and Nurse. Gonna need more still, an elite two-way D/puck mover would be good, so you have 3-3, you get some structure, you get some fundamentally sound hockey. That’s how teams are built, none of this Petry, Belov stuff. That’s just fat. Neither of them are worth anything to a good team.

    7. loveblazer69
      November 10, 2013 at

      Soooo spend 6ish years developing a defenceman, see him turn into a legitimate NHL player, re-sign him at a discount, and then give him away to your rival for nothing.

      Tyler you’ve fully internalized the oilers’ moribund ideology. You’re applauding the club’s decision to give away a good player because of the future potential of guys like Belov and Schultz. This is the cycle of mediocrity perpetuating itself.

    8. Tom Benjamin
      November 11, 2013 at

      I think the whole thing is crazy. Smid is a good player on a decent contract. He is bigger, younger, and, I think, better than Ference. I would never give him away so I could afford Bryzgalov. Not when the season is lost. If this was mostly a salary cap move (and I think it was) it makes the Ference signing a huge mistake. The Oilers effectively traded Smid for Ference.

      I think one of the priorities for MacTavish now is to make sure the Oilers underspend the cap this year once the performance bonuses are computed and added to the other player salaries. At the beginning of the season MacTavish was willing to go over the cap this year if the team made a leap toward the playoffs. Now he is not willing to carry over performance bonuses because he doesn’t want to pay them next year. The Oilers traded Smid because trading him reduced player costs this year and, as a result, will allow him to spend more next year.

      Belov? Who says the Oilers can sign him?

      The problem with the Oilers is that they do not have enough quality players. How do you solve that problem by punting one away?

    9. Bank Shot
      November 11, 2013 at

      Tyler,

      Are all the positive articles this season due to you being a big MacT fan, thus you are giving him a long leash, or are you now on the Oilers payroll?

      • Tyler Dellow
        November 11, 2013 at

        The former.

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