• Oilers Best Free Agency Move Ever?

    by  • July 3, 2014 • Hockey • 27 Comments

    I have not been as unreservedly positive about a move made by the Oilers as I am about the Benoit Pouliot signing for a long, long time. He is precisely the sort of player that the Oilers should be trying to acquire. Trolling around the internet, I’ve seen that some people are less than excited about this move. Given that, I figured I’d take a swing at defending it.

    Rightly or wrongly (I think rightly), the die is cast for the Oilers in terms of the guys who are going to be at the top of the team. The Oilers have made significant commitments to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I suspect that there’s going to be a significant commitment made to Nail Yakupov at some point because I think that they’re going to be able to figure out how to get him to produce. I would bet that he’s going to get the Hall/RNH/Eberle deal: $6MM.

    If the Oilers have made smart bets, these contracts will permit them to spend more to bolster other areas of their lineup. In other words, they should be able to buy Cadillac players to play in other roles. Benoit Pouliot is, at the very least, a gold plated Cadillac third liner.

    It took Pouliot a little longer than most top five draft picks to establish himself as a full-time NHLer. In his case, it wasn’t until he was 23 that he played in at least half an NHL season. He split time between Montreal and Minnesota that year, so we’ll look closely at his last four years, in which he’s played on a different team each year, to see what he’s done. I’m not usually a bullet point guy but there are four that I think are pretty critical in understanding what he’s done.

    *39th amongst NHL F in Corsi%, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
    *26th amongst NHL F in GF%, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
    *35th amongst NHL F in PDO, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
    *52nd amongst NHL F in 5v5 PTS/60, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)

    You can’t reasonably expect his PDO to stay as high as it is – he’s been the beneficiary of seasons in front of Carey Price, Tuuka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist – but other than that…wow. He’s played at least 120 minutes with 39 different players in that time; 34 of them have had a better Corsi% with Pouliot than they have when they were on the ice without him.

    I’ve broken that list into two groups: forwards and defencemen. The results are just outstanding.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 3.21.14 AM

    These aren’t star forwards or anything and yet, with the exception of Brian Rolston, everyone did better with Pouliot out there. 16 guys from four different teams and 15 did better with him.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 3.21.30 AM

    Basically, outside of 2011-12 in Boston (a team loaded with top of the roster talent), that holds true for the defence as well. That’s hard to do from a third line spot – the “without you” for that defenceman will mostly consist of minutes spent with the first and second lines. To get better results than a comparison that involves two lines that the coach thinks are better than yours is not an easy thing to do. And yet, Pouliot’s done it repeatedly.

    The reason that people aren’t out of their minds with excitement about this signing, as far as I can tell, is that he doesn’t have huge boxcar numbers. He had 36 points this year in 80 games. I think that worrying about this kind of misses the point. First of all, he’s never been anything special on the power play, although he looks to have been used as a net front guy from time to time. The Oilers don’t really need players who can play the power play. They’ve got lots of those.

    Second, points aren’t the measure of a hockey player. Contributing to outscoring the opposition is. Sometimes point totals tell us something about whether a guy contributes a lot to outscoring the opposition, sometimes they don’t. This is particularly true as you get further down the lineup and PP time/ES TOI is reduced. The Oilers need guys who can put opposing players to the sword at 5v5. For the last four years, Pouliot’s been amongst the NHL’s elite at doing it.

    It’s kind of funny, given the bad taste that the end of the Ethan Moreau years left in a lot of mouths, but I wonder if this isn’t kind of analogous to bringing in Moreau (and not just because they both have a taste for an offensive zone penalty). A first round pick who didn’t produce the offence that people expected but became a valuable top nine forward.

    We don’t have possession numbers for the period of time in which Moreau was an effective hockey player in Edmonton but he went +14 from age 23 to 30 in Edmonton. I’m not a huge fan of +/- and Moreau would have benefited from being on the ice to defend leads (ENG) and penalty killing (shorthanded goals) but being in the black over that length of time, which would allow the PDO to even out, suggests he was a pretty good possession player. His body broke down and then he really got off the rails but he was a really useful Oiler for an extended period.

    Pouliot strikes me as being from that vein, only a lot better – he’s an actual 5v5 offensive player (his 5v5 on-ice S% over the past four years is 8.8%, which is legitimately excellent and, if you look at who he’s played a lot with, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who was pushing that). Given what he’s accomplished at 5v5, you sort of wonder what he could do with an expanded role at 5v5. The Oilers first line left wing spot is filled for the foreseeable future but Pouliot would certainly seem to be a candidate to take on more 5v5 minutes in a second line type role. There isn’t a huge difference in terms of quality of competition between second and third line but you might be able to find him a few more minutes there and get even more production from him.

    Even if that doesn’t come off, this is exactly the sort of move that the Oilers should be making: paying free agent prices for the best top nine forwards and top four defencemen that they can buy. I wasn’t very impressed with the Nikita Nikitin move because I don’t think he’s a top four defenceman on a reasonably good team but this might be the smartest risk that the Oilers have ever taken in free agency. Pouliot’s been an elite third liner on a couple of very good teams. If he’s only that in Edmonton, the deal is a huge win. If he’s more, he’s better than a huge win, whatever that might be.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    27 Responses to Oilers Best Free Agency Move Ever?

    1. MattM
      July 3, 2014 at

      I think the thing that gives people trouble (even people who are down with the whole fancy stats crusade) is that it seems like the Oilers paid full value based on this kind of analysis, rather than using this kind of analysis to get an undervalued player.

      What I’d really love to know is if the Rangers had lost to the Penguins, would the Oilers have still gone after Pouliot? If so, how much cheaper is he without the visibility increasing playoff run?

      • mpre
        July 3, 2014 at

        Based on advanced stats this was a very exciting signing for the Oil. Just when I start to believe in smarter decision making I hear Petry is on the block. One step forward two back. It appears that the use of stats is only being applied to aquire players from other teams, but not to make decisions on current Oilers. Time will tell if this is the case. The Petry handling will speak volumes… we wait.

        • gogliano
          July 3, 2014 at

          Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam:

          I’d wait to see Petry dealt before I make it a mark against MacT. Even if they are 100% committed to signing Petry at a reasonable price there are bargaining advantages (e.g. increased information, possible leverage with player, etc.) to having the appearance of being willing to part with a player.

          And unloading Gagner might have had something to do with fancy stats.

      • Johnny
        July 3, 2014 at

        Regardless of the Rangers’ playoff performance, I still would have targeted Pouliot, D. Moore and Boyle as possible role players for the Oilers.

    2. Eirhead
      July 3, 2014 at

      I think Pouliot could have gotten 3.5 X 3 with lots of teams in the league. He’s a gamer, and I think he’ll be a positive addition to this team.

      Ideally you want guys like this coming up through your prospect pool so you can pay them bottom dollar for high-intensity… unfortunately for the Oilers, our prospect pool has been tapped for flashy wingers, and not gritty 3rd liners. This whole rebuild is assbackwards, and MacT is just trying to fill in the middle ranks that we are so desperate for.

    3. Muji
      July 3, 2014 at

      Cool! This excites me.
      The underlying numbers look fantastic and I’m really curious to see the impact he’ll have on our skill guys.

      PS:
      “These aren’t star forwards or anything and yet, with the exception of Brian Rolston…”
      I think you meant to say “These aren’t ALL star forwards…” because there are some stars in that list (e.g. Marty St.Louis).

    4. Jerod
      July 3, 2014 at

      First tool out of the toolbox should be the eye test, then you look at secondary sources such as advanced stats, which in my mind should only confirm what the scout/gm already knows. Surgeons want to cut first , Stat guys want advanced stats first.

      Not saying your wrong.

      • Richard
        July 3, 2014 at

        That is likely the worst possible application of statistical information I have heard in quite some time, and I by trade, am a statistician. “Fancy stats” describe real patterns. Players with better fancy stats have better outcomes, its that simple. It should be the first tool that we use to assess a player. I am actually not sure how the eye test is even relevant any more, to be completely honest. All that is, is our prior experience speaking, and each persons prior experience is unique, personal, illogical and inherently biased. Is the eye test used when making decisions on drug safety during clinical trials? Not at all. Everything is measured and statistical methods are applied predict and describe impact. Over the next 10 years teams that will succeed will be those who rapidly adopt a rigorous scientific approach to player selection and deployment.

        • Jerod
          July 3, 2014 at

          How that working in the stock market?

          • Aaron
            July 3, 2014 at

            A stock market driven by a rigorous scientific approach looks about the same as a stock market driven by blind luck.

            The knowledge is already baked into the price the expected appreciation of any stock over the next year should be about equal to the rate of inflation.

            The difference in the hockey market is a lot of people are not using a scientific approach, players like Pouliot are mispriced. So if you take advantage of the science you can make a killing before the other teams catch on.

          • Ashton
            July 4, 2014 at

            How does that have ANYTHING to do with his reply?

            He called you out, and you pull a random NAAH defense.

          • Richard
            July 4, 2014 at

            I doubt one day all the players in the NHL will suddenly regress to their level of skill they had when they were 12…if you were attempting to make an analogy to the stock market collapse. They may regress year to year, yes, but a predictable trend is usually there with a relatively small chance that a player will drop of the face of the earth in an instant with no warning. And if they do, to will be so drastic, that stats and the eye will tell you are the same time. I would argue that small parts of the stock market can be measured and predicted with success when good indicators are used (which they are not always). There are so many unknown factors in the stock market out of our control that it is almost nearly impossible to gather the right data in every situation. I believe that we now have good indicators now in hockey however, and can be relied upon heavily. Also, the stock market is hugely influenced by greed, emotion and group think, which are very unpredictable. Players are predictable enough that the investment in analytics can have a huge payoff with minimal risk.

            • Jerod
              July 4, 2014 at

              I never did disagree with technical stats but if that all you rely on you will lose.

              Fancy stat guys think it is all about math that is their reflex. It is not that easy, if it was we wouldn’t need scouts. We would only need data. My approach is watching the player and using fancy stats as an aid. So many more intangibles with hockey vs. baseball

    5. Delabar
      July 3, 2014 at

      I hate to be the pedantic one in the crowd, but … the expression is “the die IS cast” not “are cast. It’s not a reference to dice. All pederasty aside (ha), I completely agree – Pouliot is a perfect compliment to what the Oilers already possess. I think he and Fayne, plus another year older for the young core will put this team over the tipping point to being a playoff team. Quick turnarounds happen with these type of changes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Colorado Avalanche-esque improved season this year … hopefully a legit turnaround unlike the crash to earth expected in Denver this year.
      Aulie, on the other hand, in a head scratcher of a signing. Why do we need this guy?

      • Tyler Dellow
        July 3, 2014 at

        The infuriating thing is that I wrote “the die is cast”, was proofing it and changed it. Stupid proofreading.

      • Agustin
        July 6, 2014 at

        The phrase is actually a reference to gambling with dice. In old english the singular of dice is die. The expression “the die is cast” was a way for Julius Caesar to say that once he and his armies crossed the Rubicon it was a gamble, like rolling a die, he didn’t know how things would end until the fighting (or the rolling of the die) ended.

        Other than that, you are correct, the right expression is “the die is cast”, because it is meant in singular form.
        *adjusts glasses and leans back on chair.*

    6. PunjabiOil
      July 3, 2014 at

      It’s clear GMs across the league are increasingly adopting advanced stats.

      I think the Oilers used it last year too, but have increasingly invested in it during the year. And now are fully subscribed to it.

      That might explain why nobody picked up Pouliot last year at 40 cents on the dollar.

      Of course with Tom Gilbert going for peanuts, and the Orpik’s and Engelland’s getting paid handsomely suggests there are still market inefficiencies available for MacT to exploit.

    7. lee
      July 3, 2014 at

      hey that’s a great, encouraging read Tyler. Trade looks a lot better than the mind’s eye suggests. Can you do a similar analogy of the Purcell trade? Don’t know much about this guy.

    8. Ashton
      July 4, 2014 at

      I am not going to lie. I was cringed when I heard about the signing. The more I read, and the more research I did, has made the contract sit a little better.

      I wish we could have gotten him for something like the Fayne contract. But you also have to figure the “oilers tax” might have come into play.

      Hopefully soon that extra tax we have to spend to get players will go away, and we can get someone like Pouliot at a discount.

    9. chelch
      July 4, 2014 at

      GMs clearly paid for possession this year. I think the Pouliot deal will be the benchmark for “good value for possession” contracts in the coming years. As this trend catches on, GMs will start to over-value possession and over-pay.

      I’m hoping you have something on the way that can make sense of what the Leafs are doing. Are they actually improving by bringing in possession players and letting negative CorsiRel% players walk? Or are they actively decreasing GF a LOT in an effort to reduce GA by a little (ie. tanking)?

    10. MaxPower417
      July 4, 2014 at

      “Moreau would have benefited from being on the ice to defend leads (ENG) and penalty killing (shorthanded goals)”

      Really minor point here, but I’ve always wondered whether or not that latter point is true. What happens more often, Shorthanded goals, or goals scored right after a PP has expired, either when tired PKers are still trapped or even before the penalized player make it back into the zone?

    11. Mick
      July 5, 2014 at

      Tyler, I am a diehard Ranger fan. I am wondering what analysis there is that ties Pouliot’s penchant for bad penalties into his total value. I would’ve liked the Rangers to re-sign him, but I won’t miss the “3-on-1 for the Rangers, ph and a tripping on Pouliot” sequences.

      • Triumph
        July 6, 2014 at

        Pouliot is a negative in penalties drawn over his career, and most forwards are a positive. So yeah, this is a problem, but he does draw a fair number of penalties. If anything, he seems to have gotten better over the last 3 years – he’s taken fewer than 1 penalty per 60 minutes of ES time. Unfortunately I don’t remember what the baseline for a forward is, but I can’t imagine Pouliot’s negative impact in this regard is over 3 goals a season.

        I think his penchant for offensive zone penalties is tied into his positive territorial ability. Some % of the time he goes too far and hooks the guy, but a lot of the time he also manages to steal the puck without a penalty.

        • Tyler Dellow
          July 6, 2014 at

          Ive been kind of wondering the same thing myself. Ethan Moreau was a guy who was probably a good possession player earlier in his career but in his mid thirties just degenerated into an offensive zone penalty machine. I’ve kind of wondered the same thing about offensive zone penalties, whether or not they’re tied to aggressively pursuing pucks. I suspect that the answer’s yes, although it’d be difficult to prove.

          • Triumph
            July 7, 2014 at

            RajeevAnanda turned me on to this idea. I think it holds some weight – Jagr had 4 hits this year and still had 23 minor penalties. Alexes Semin Kovalev and Ponikarovsky were three other guys who always have/had tons of penalties. Can’t speak to Kovalev’s prime but Semin and Poni were big play drivers. Fans and coaches alike hate the offensive zone penalty but I’m not sure they should for guys like this.

            • Rajeev
              July 7, 2014 at

              Finally getting the credit I so thoroughly deserve. But yes, you/we are correct.

    12. Bank Shot
      July 5, 2014 at

      I kind of wonder why he gets the gravy offensive zone starts on every team he’s been on?

      Is he that good offensively, or coaches don’t trust him defensively, or a bit of both?

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