• Blame The Media

    by  • June 21, 2014 • Uncategorized • 13 Comments

    Brian Burke does pretty good business with an act about how hockey is an eyeballs business and there’s nothing that one can learn from looking at numbers. His show recently had a brief return engagement in Toronto for a fundraiser. Like any aging band on tour, Burke reached for his biggest hits and got into slagging the media.

    “Let me interrupt,” Burke interrupted, suddenly seizing on a point. “Francois Beauchemin: Couldn’t play here. Second team all-star in Anaheim (in 2012-13 after being traded by the Leafs to the Ducks in February 2011). Okay, what’s different? He’s the same player. Same wife. Fans didn’t change. What’s different? The media.”

    “Couldn’t play here.”

    As it so happens, I went and did a graph the other day, charting the difference between Beauchemin’s Corsi% when he was on the ice and his team’s Corsi% when he wasn’t, focusing just on seasons in which he played at least 19 minutes a night, at least 41 games and didn’t switch teams mid-season. That rules out Beauchemin’s 2008-09 (injury limited him to 20 games) and his 2010-11, in which he was traded to Anaheim in mid-season.

    Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 2.32.13 AM

    The astute looker at lines will note that Beauchemin’s Corsi% was better than his team’s in every season that he met these criteria prior to 2013-14. In other words, he played for good possession teams and bad ones and he made them better when he was on the ice. Including the 2009-10 Toronto Maple Leafs.

    A quick look tells me that Beauchemin had a positive CorsiRel with Toronto in 10-11 as well as with Anaheim in his injury shortened 2008-09. His 10-11 in Anaheim produced a negative CorsiRel; I think I’d give Beauchemin the same consideration I give Dion Phaneuf in Toronto, given the circumstances.

    So what we’re talking about here is a player who, whether in Anaheim or Toronto, consistently had good possession numbers relative to his team. So how in the world did Burke arrive at “Couldn’t play here” with respect to Beauchemin’s time as a Leaf?

    Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 2.25.30 AM

    I find that PDO usually helps in this cases, so I put together the PDO numbers for Beauchemin’s time in Anaheim and Toronto, which is in the table to the left. You can see that Beauchemin’s PDO has fluctuated, as PDO tends to do. It is relentlessly unsurprising that in the two years that he was Francois “Couldn’t Play Here” Beauchemin, he had a lousy PDO, while in 2012-13, when he made the All-Star team he had a PDO of 103.6.

    If Burke was familiar with numbers, he’d recognize that the numbers that tend to be consistent with defencemen tended to be consistent – Beauchemin had a lengthy run where he improved possession when he was on the ice. The numbers that tend to fluctuate – PDO – fluctuated.

    The dopeyness of Burke’s comments is underlined by the fact that Beauchemin got burned by each of the two PDO components in Toronto, one each season. His first year, the Leafs shot a miserable 5.8% when he was on the ice and had a nice league average .920 save percentage. The next year, his S% regressed in a positive way – they shot 8.7% – and the bottom fell out of his on-ice save percentage, which was .902. This should underline how likely it is that Burke is conflating “Couldn’t Play Here” with “Unlucky” – Beauchemin got burned by two separate things over which he has little or no control in back to back years, resulting in lousy PDO in consecutive years.

    To emphasize how ridiculous Burke’s point is, Beauchemin had a third consecutive lousy PDO year in 2011-12 before becoming a PDO All-Star the past two years. Does it take a year for the poison of the Toronto media to drain from a man’s soul, enabling him to again become the beneficiary of bounces? Or is this a thoroughly ridiculous argument?

    I never entirely know whether I should believe what Brian Burke says or whether he’s got a touch of Paul Keating to him. I find it hard to believe than an executive with a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars could be ignorant of this stuff. I’ve never really understood art – I once dated a girl who was amazed that I was 30 and had never been to a play – and I don’t really get Burke’s hair so maybe the whole thing is some sort of elaborate Andy Kaufman performance art that I don’t understand.

    The crazy thing is, I’m inclined to believe that he’s serious because the man acts as if he believes what he says. It may have been an eyeball business twenty years ago. It’s not exclusively one anymore and it’s never going to be more of an eyeball business again than it is at this second. If Brian Burke truly believes that Francois Beauchemin couldn’t play in Toronto because of the media but regained his ability after 18 months of freedom, he’s just illustrating how badly you can mess up applying the eyeball test.

    Update: A number of people have suggested that I’ve misinterpreted Burke here. Their theory is that “Couldn’t play here” was in reference to the Toronto media suggesting that Beauchemin couldn’t play here, not that there was some problem with Beauchemin. While I’m not sure I buy that interpretation, it still raises the same issues raised in this post. Why was Beauchemin a second team All-Star in 2012-13? Because he had the gaudy numbers. Why did he have the gaudy numbers? Because he had the PDO. A team that’s conversant in numbers could have better defended their player from the media hordes.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’m not sure that the Toronto media is as rabid as Burke claims. It’s always seemed to me like the guys who manage them well can have the key guys eating out of their hands and parroting their assessments.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    13 Responses to Blame The Media

    1. Tach
      June 21, 2014 at

      I actually think you’re misinterpreting what Burke said here. He isn’t saying Beauchemin was a bad player in Toronto because of media scrutiny, but that the media portrayed him as a bad player and he had to be traded to satisfy the public. The next paragraph in that article said:

      “The suggestion being that the Toronto media wanted Beauchemin traded”

      I don’t interpret that as Burke saying “Beauchemin was bad because of the media scrutiny.” Rather “The media portrayed Beauchemin as bad, but he was really a 2nd team All Star.

      In which case you seem to agree.

    2. RossCreekNation
      June 21, 2014 at

      My interpretation of what Burke said is similar to Tach’s – I thought he was saying the media thought he couldn’t play & influenced fan opinion.

    3. Benjamin
      June 21, 2014 at

      I agree with Tach’s interpretation of what Burke said here.

      I remember Beauchemin’s confidence had been pretty shot by the time he left Toronto, and it was almost certainly due to the media’s consistent negative portrayal of him. Some time after the trade there were quotes circulating around about how he was, by his own admission, a different player when he returned to Anaheim due to a lack of confidence. Not to say he wasn’t still an effective player before and shortly after the trade, Toronto got a pretty excellent return for him. But it took him awhile to regain the self-belief that the media had supposedly taken away from him.

    4. June 21, 2014 at

      Ok. I get the caveat on Burke’s comments.

      But, doesn’t that just raise a further question?

      You local media is a bunch of rubes that are always looking for a flash-point story line. Rallying around a narrative that X player has negative value and an addition by subtraction is good for business is what they do.

      This was Hemsky’s life forever. Gary Lawless has been trying to get Buff traded out of WPG for most of the year. This is just the common mode of a lot of MSM guys.

      The real question is… if Beauchemin is the real deal, why on earth would a GM who recognizes that (as this caveat suggests Burke did) even consider trading him, esp. in the midst of a ginned up media narrative that he’s terrible?

      Why would a GM trade away value at its lowest point? Because they are stupid. The answer is the same.

      • Benjamin
        June 21, 2014 at

        Burke traded Beauchemin because it was a good hockey deal and good asset management.

        Lupul has been a solid contributor for the Leafs, though that extension is suspect, and Gardiner is an excellent young defencemen with a bright future. Removing optics, I don’t think any GM in Burke’s position doesn’t make that trade in hindsight.

        • June 21, 2014 at

          Sure,

          But that’s a separate question.

          If you can upgrade your team (as you see it), it’s always worth doing, or at least looking into.

          The question isn’t could you trade Beauchemin and get a good return, or did the Leafs do so.

          The question is about how a GM responds to a context and what factors does he take seriously.

          Or, if you see a why to improve your team, do regardless of media narratives. And, when you start including media narratives into your accounting of things, regardless of whether you end up with a good deal, it’s going to be problematic because you’ve got a flawed approach.

          • Benjamin
            June 21, 2014 at

            I agree with what you’re saying but there’s zero evidence that what you’re describing took place here.

    5. tphillers
      June 21, 2014 at

      You’ve never been to a play?

      • gongshow
        June 22, 2014 at

        …and you once dated a girl?

        Lies!!!

        I have it on good authority that bloggers never leave their mom’s basements except to hit up gamer stores and 7-11.

        • gongshow
          June 22, 2014 at

          btw – Thanks Tyler for your all of your efforts here. I’m glad you’ve never been to a play.

    6. chelch
      June 23, 2014 at

      Now that’s an article! Good stuff!

    7. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – June 23, 2014

    8. ziggy mehta
      June 23, 2014 at

      Why don’t GMs (and player agents) simply encourage players to stop reading/listening/watching the sports media? It’s not like (a) there aren’t more interesting things to do with their free time, and (b) there’s any chance of learning something new about their sport by reading Red Smith’s offspring.

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