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.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org