• Laraque, Cloutier, Firing JFJ, Alex Auld and Trading Within Your Conference

    by Tyler Dellow • July 7, 2006 • Uncategorized • 10 Comments

    There’s been a ton of NHL news in the past week; unfortunately I’ve been incredibly busy. From an Oilers standpoint, the big story should be Laraque. I’m notoriously soft on returning players, I think – I didn’t think that booing Weight was cool during the Finals. I’m not going to offer any defence of Chris Pronger in this regard; I hope that people are burning him in effigy in the stands and that Kevin Lowe is the guy with the bucket of gasoline.

    I hope that Georges Laraque gets it a bit better when he comes back though. He was ineffective this year in part because of the change in the game, I think. For a fourth line player, Laraque wasn’t that bad. He can be useful killing the game in the offensive end of the ice. His problem is that guys with his skill set got kind of screwed when the game changed because all of the sudden there was less ice time available for fourth liners, which meant that if MacT chose to use these guys, he was in a position where he was forced to play them against better players. The changes to the game probably didn’t help him either. Laraque’s icetime dropped by about 1/3 – he was a 9 ES minute a night man the last four years and dropped to 6.37 this year.

    It’s a move that is probably demanded by the players that the Oilers have in the system – I’d rather hand those minutes to one of the young kids who might be something that Laraque isn’t as well but I enjoyed watching him in Edmonton. He’s one of the faces of the early 2000′s era of the Oilers and he’s a player who was uniquely entertaining to watch on the ice. It was always fun to hear the noise level in Rexall start to rise as Laraque did one of those 15 second bits where he holds onto the puck and fends someone off. His goal in the playoffs, while ultimately meaningless in that game, was a hoot. The into the glass celebration was cool. There was usually some entertaining controversy that followed him as well – car accidents, speeding tickets, the time when his radio commitments interfered with hockey, constant predictions of 20 goal seasons, debate over his honour code of fighting but it was always entertaining.

    Ultimately though, Laraque is a guy who really seems to love the fans and who enjoyed being in Edmonton. I regularly laugh at this stuff, people saying that guys will take less money or that they should do something because of the fans but Larauque is unique. The gesture that he got in trouble for in G3 against Anaheim, after he beat up on Fedoruk for a second time, flowed from that as he got swept up in the moment. He doesn’t seem like he particularly enjoys his role in the NHL but he seemed to love getting the crowd whipped up and love being a part of the team in Edmonton. I took a look at some of the comments in threads at other sites throughout the Oilogosphere and there’s some neat stuff there relating to people interacting with him.

    I believe him when he says that the trade talk was hard on him and that it was a difficult decision to leave Edmonton. I hope that when Phoenix comes back, he gets a good cheer. Given that the city reacts with outrage whenever someone decides to go elsewhere, Edmonton should show some appreciation to a guy who wanted to stay but was told that his time was up.

    It is of course, a bad contract. I just hope that he doesn’t get screwed on the no trade clause. Ask Todd Marchant – no trade doesn’t mean no waivers.

    The goalie movement is always of interest to me because I find the market bizarre. Dave Nonis made his second good trade in ten days in dumping Cloutier on LA. The second round pick in return is just gravy. I don’t know what LA is doing here – they’ve got Mathie Garon and mc79hockey.com fave Jason LaBarbera already. They don’t seem like they’re going to compete this year. I assume that Garon is leaving although god knows where he’s going.

    As dumb as LA was to trade a second for Cloutier when they’ve got a decent pair already and don’t seem like they’re going to be contending this year, it just pales in comparison to John Ferguson’s work. An excellent goaltending prospect in Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft, proud owner of one (1) good pro season in four? JFJ couldn’t say the words “Calder winner” enough in his interview. I don’t see how Raycroft is a better bet than Manny Legace next year; I don’t see how Raycroft is a better bet than Cloutier. This is like the guy who goes to Vegas, loses 90% of his net worth and then borrows whatever he can to add to the 10% he has left to win it all back. Then he goes to the slots. Add to that the crazy spending on defencemen and it could be a long ugly season in Toronto.

    I took a look at Mirtle’s thread on this – we were talking the other day about how nuts this contract is. David Johnson was putting up a pretty stout defence of the deal, arguing that it’s worth it because of the upside. I can’t agree with this. Even if the Leafs get the upside, they’re not going to have a team that contend. I think that the belief that he can dominate again is far fetched as well. I’ve said it before but he never dominated in the minors. If you were trying to pick out the season he’s had that looks like an outlier, you’d have to pick 2003-04. It’s a risky deal because of what the Leafs are giving up. No one knows that Rask is going to be but when you consider that the smart money is probably on Legace to have a better save percentage than Raycroft next season, I can’t see how this deal is defensible. It’s the kind of deal that you make when you need a miracle to keep your job-better options in terms of risk and asset management are available but JFJ needs something outrageous to happen.

    With that in mind, I’m having a pool on when he gets fired. My pick is a week before the trade deadline, when the Leafs upper management realizes that they don’t want the architect of the 70 point season that they’re heading towards making lunatic moves in a desperate attempt to get his contract extended. Make your pick in the comments. Closest to the actual date gets acclaim and bragging rights. Richard Peddie is ineligible.*

    The Good 30
    Name Save % RELSV%
    Racicot, Andre 0.904 1023
    Riendeau, Vincent 0.902 1023
    Kiprusoff, Miikka 0.926 1021
    Young, Wendell 0.897 1020
    Casey, Jon 0.898 1019
    Biron, Martin 0.921 1019
    Chabot, Frederic 0.898 1018
    Bergeron, Jean-Claude 0.897 1018
    Roloson, Dwayne 0.911 1017
    Draper, Tom 0.897 1017
    Reddick, Eldon 0.895 1015
    Puppa, Daren 0.894 1014
    Hauser, Adam 0.929 1013
    MacDonald, Joey 0.928 1013
    Carey, Jim 0.908 1013
    Hodson, Kevin 0.900 1013
    LaBarbera, Jason 0.926 1012
    Scott, Travis 0.922 1012
    Lehtonen, Kari 0.928 1012
    Madeley, Darrin 0.899 1012
    Labbe, J.F. 0.916 1012
    Toivonen, Hannu 0.927 1012
    Tugnutt, Ron 0.895 1011
    Theodore, Jose 0.912 1011
    Roussel, Dominic 0.897 1011
    Fichaud, Eric 0.915 1011
    St. Laurent, Sam 0.888 1011
    Kolzig, Olaf 0.892 1011
    Thomas, Tim 0.922 1011
    Snow, Garth 0.899 1010
    The Bad 30
    Name Save % RELSV%
    Melanson, Rollie 0.874 994
    Tabaracci, Rick 0.877 994
    Ketterer, Markus 0.882 994
    Rudkowsky, Cody 0.903 993
    Gilmour, Darryl 0.872 993
    Grahame, John 0.898 993
    Leclaire, Pascal 0.908 993
    Holmqvist, Johan 0.905 992
    Bales, Mike 0.885 992
    Auld, Alex 0.907 992
    Ahonen, Ari 0.906 991
    Bach, Ryan 0.898 991
    Szuper, Levente 0.902 991
    Centomo, Sebastien 0.905 990
    DesRochers, Patrick 0.902 990
    DelGuidice, Matt 0.873 990
    Robitaille, Marc 0.896 989
    Gage, Joaquin 0.889 989
    Caron, Sebastien 0.901 989
    Nabokov, John 0.894 989
    Weekes, Kevin 0.885 989
    Foster, Norm 0.869 988
    LaGrand, Scott 0.873 988
    Michaud, Alfie 0.897 987
    Reaugh, Daryl 0.869 987
    Kotyk, Seamus 0.902 987
    Maneluk, George 0.869 986
    Verner, Andrew 0.868 985
    Reimer, Mark 0.866 983
    Daskalakis, Cleon 0.859 976

    Frequent commenter JavaGeek wasn’t impressed with my post on the Canucks goaltending. He had a variety of complaints, including that I’ve treated Alex Auld unfairly in suggesting that he won’t put up a .902 again and closed by remarking that it’s easy to get the outcome that I’m looking for when I massage the data. While that is obviously true, it wasn’t intentional in that case. I disagree with his assertion that you can’t tell from AHL save percentages whether or not a guy has possibilities as a starter. Stopping a hockey puck is stopping a hockey puck: a track record of doing so in the past is probably the best indicator of future ability to do, particularly given the application of some common sense.

    Taking Auld as an example, he had a weighted average relative save percentage in the AHL of 992 on 4066 shots. I don’t have the necessary information to adjust for team quality – this is a blunt tool I’m using. I do know this though: if you can’t stop the puck in the AHL, you can’t be more than a journeyman goalie in the NHL. There’s no such thing as “a goalie who’s good in the NHL who wouldn’t be good in the AHL.” The charts beside this are the best and worst career relative save percentages over at least 2000 shots in the AHL since 1984-85.

    Count the guys in the top 30 who’ve gone on to some sort of useful NHL career. We can fight about the bar but surely no one would argue that Kiprusoff, Casey, Biron, Roloson, Puppa, Tugnutt, Theodore, Kolzig and Snow were at the very least competent NHL starters at their peaks. Toivonen and Lehtonen will join that list shortly, I think; my boy LaBarbera is an outside shot to do so as well. You’re still left with Racicot, Riendeau, Reddick, Carey and Roussel who had NHL careers of one sort or another. I imagine that if I screened this list for age somehow and cut it down to the guys who compiled their save percentages when they were young, eliminating some of the AHL lifers like Travis Scott, it would look even better.

    Then you’ve got the bad list. Who are the legit NHL goalies there? Nabokov leaps out but he’s a special case I think – he had a horrible season one year where he couldn’t stop anything and then was fine. Other than that, the only names of note that I see are Melanson, Tabaracci, Grahame and Weekes. None of those guys were anything special in the NHL. My estimate for Auld was harsh and my analysis would certainly benefit from some sensitivity analysis but I don’t think that it can be argued that it was anything but fair. Auld wasn’t young when he was getting bombed in the AHL and never showed any signs of progression towards competence, let alone dominance. Until he does it again, I think that it makes sense to have low expectations of him and look at last year suspiciously.

    There’s lots of stuff that would be good to have here – it would be preferable to have ES/PP/PK breakdowns of course and it’d be nice if someone came up with a rational system of shot quality and made that information public. Preferably not me of course, but someone. For all the money that NHL teams spend on scouting, I can’t believe that it doesn’t make sense to outsource some data collection to India on AHL game tapes. If you found one steal every five years through this – a Jason LaBarbera (.900 sv percentage last season), for instance, it would probably pay for itself. At the very least, you could probably have better information than if you just sent out scouts and asked them what they thought. Good goalies slip through the AHL cracks – I’d want to find them.

    One other comment on that thread. JavaGeek says that Luongo faced soft shots in FLA. I don’t know if he factors in rebounds or not but that’s not what my numbers say.

    I got an email the other day from someone suggesting a post on whether I thought that trading within the conference is such a bad thing. Considering that IOF’s Dennis is wandering the internet and slitting his wrists at various sites because, inter alia (I got Black’s Law Dictionary as a grad present), Pronger was traded within the conference, it’s a good question.

    I don’t think that it matters that much. Assuming that the value in return is equal, which it isn’t today, I’d want the most value if I cared about the long term health of the franchise. Given that Lowe, as someone with five Stanley Cup rings, is an untouchable, he probably does (see Ferguson, John Jr. for an example of a guy who would have traded for as much today as possible). If the best deal is within the conference, I’d take that. So I have to play him four times a year? Who cares. Anaheim, Phoenix, LA and Dallas now have to see him eight times annually, which helps me. Pronger will have the same effect in conference as he had before, except that he’ll affect the Oilers four games annually instead of the Ducks. I can see the argument that in this case, he’s helping a team with whom the Oilers are competing but what can you do? There’s no way to predict the future and surely two years is the maximum period within which the Ducks win this deal. If Selanne gets hurt or something, they’re probably not competing with the Oilers.

    There are just too many moving pieces to get caught up in the possibility that in Game 82 next year, Edmonton will be playing Anaheim with the last playoff spot on the line and the Orbs will take on a healthy glow in the last minute of play, leading to an Anaheim goal that knocks out the Oilers. If the deals are neutral, then I’d send him to the other conference but if I thought that the deal in the WC was better for my team, I’d trade him here. You can’t worry about what other teams might do or not do, in my opinion. All that you can do is take care of your own business and go from there. I guess what I’m saying is that I think that the chance that Pronger somehow directly impacts the Oilers chances of success is so small because so many other things have to happen that it’s not worth worrying about.

    An obvious example of this is the Yashin deal. The conventional move there would be to send him to the Western Conference. Lupul and Smid isn’t Spezza and Chara but the same principles apply, I think. Worry about your own return. Worrying about having the deal blow up because the player goes somewhere where your own media see him frequently and write about him is for the insecure GM. JFJ would have sent him out west, I’m sure, but Lowe doesn’t need to roll that way. If this was the best deal that Lowe thought that he could get – including by waiting, something I’m less sure about – then good on him for having the testicular fortitude to pull the trigger on it within his conference.

    I think that’s everything. I’m going to wade into the big debate about defencemen and forwards taking place in the comments on the post below as it’s a hot topic right now but that post will take me a bit of time to pull together – It’s going to be numerically intensive. Also, Grabia has suggested that some sort of post outlining the numbers I pay attention to is a good idea. This was seconded by a completely unrelated party in a bar last night. There are apparently hundreds of different people reading this daily, so that might be a good idea.

    *Unless fired first.

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