• The Consequences of Horrendous Failure

    by Tyler Dellow • December 7, 2009 • Uncategorized • 22 Comments

    Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe are standing on the brink of a momentous achievement. As things stand, the Oilers are on pace to spent 98.6% of the maximum allowable under the salary cap. The Oilers are also currently on pace for a top five draft pick, with a shot to win the lottery and pick first. Spending a ton of money and ending up with a lottery pick really does represent a certain amount of catastrophic mismanagement so I thought I’d go and see what’s happened to the management groups of teams that managed to spend 90%+ of the salary cap while ending with a pick in the lottery.

    shoulders

    This is something that’s happened nine times in the last four years (which really doesn’t speak well of NHL management types). Five times, the GM’s fate has been swift and severe, as if meted out by the Chinese justice system, with the GM who assembled the team not around to botch the pick. Dale Tallon somehow managed to stretch it out for another two years, before getting fired because he didn’t understand the CBA. Larry Pleau immediately hired his ultimate replacement, buying himself another two years. Only Dean Lombardi managed to do this without disappearing within two years. All the more impressively, he managed to do it in back to back seasons.

    Looking at these seasons, the thing that sort of jumps out at you is how often bad goaltending decisions play a role in an unexpected lottery pick. Lombardi traded for Dan Cloutier in the summer of 2006, a decision I characterized in the following terms:

    This is a sort of “Why bother?” trade. As I do when referring to every goalie move made this summer, I note that Manny Legace was available for fewer dollars and no draft pick. Instead, the Kings traded for a very average Dan Cloutier who has the added benefit of coming off major knee surgery that cost him an entire season, having just turned 30 and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The Provincereported a few days back that he actually WASN’T being investigated for a hit and run last year but that’s about the best thing that you can say for him. A weird and pointless addition – I’d have gone with Garon/LaBarbera before I spent money and a draft pick to get Dan Cloutier. Signing him to the long term deal just compounds the error.

    Since that writing:

    Cloutier: 33GP-.868SV%
    Garon: 109GP-.907SV%
    LaBarbera: 78GP-.907SV%

    I think my comment has stood up well.

    That deal actually screwed up two years for LA – as they had Cloutier signed for 2007-08 and didn’t want LaBarbera to rot in the minors again, they let Garon go to Edmonton. LaBarbera provided .910 goaltending to the Kings in 2007-08; their other six (!) goalies gave them .896 goaltending and the Kings missed the playoffs. Goaltending wasn’t the entire problem but it certainly didn’t help.

    The decision to bet on Andrew Raycroft has cost THREE guys their jobs – Mike O’Connell in Boston, JFJ in Toronto and Francois Giguere in Colorado. Mike Gillis should watch out. The 07-08 Blues put half of a goaltending team in place but were burned by the backups – Hannu Toivonen was the main guy and he had an horrific .878 save percentage. The Flyers got comically bad save percentages from their guys in 2006-07. Mike Barnett in Phoenix inexplicably decided to go with a 40 year old Curtis Joseph as his starting goaltender. Here’s what I said about the Joseph signing in September of 2006:

    Curtis Joseph started out last season like he was 25 again before hitting a big slide. Through the first 500 shots he saw, he had a .926 save percentage. On his last 1191 shots his save percentage was .891. He hasn’t been anything special in terms of save percentage since 2000-01 and you have to think that it’d be foolish to expect anything more than average goaltending at best from him in 2006-07. He’s suffered a lot of injuries over the years as well. Signing Curtis Joseph for 2005-06 at $900K was a smart gamble for the Coyotes and one that paid off well, taking the season as a whole. Signing him for $2MM in a year when they don’t look to be competitive at all and when there were better goaltending options available for the asking is a poor, poor move.

    Joseph was atrocious all year long. I don’t know that there’s anything to this but I might take a look sometime at the performance the following season of players who have a stretch that far exceeds their performance as a whole versus players who achieve the same performance as a whole, but in a more consistent fashion. I don’t think I believe that there’s much to the label of streaky, and maybe I only notice these things because the players tend to be notable flameouts but it seems to me that guys who have an extraordinary hot streak followed by blase play tend to flame out more frequently the following season. Steve Mason would be another example – his numbers were very normal, very quickly, something that was disguised by his hot start.

    Interestingly, Nikolai Khabibulin has been involved in one of these situations before – assuming the Oilers get a top five pick and manage to spend more than 98.2% of cap, he’ll have the dubious honour of having played for what are arguably the two most horrifically inefficient teams of the salary cap era. It’s not a playoff spot, but it gives us something interesting to root for the coming weeks and months.

    The hopeful thing we can draw from this is that in 6/9 cases, the fans were at least promised some changes after enduring a high rent team that sucked. Unfortunately, there seems to be some correlation with length of tenure as well – Tambo probably still has some goodwill.

    It’s common for coaches and general managers of struggling teams to sniff that they’ve got a vision and that they aren’t going to deterred by the fans who just don’t understand. Usually, that’s a difficult position to argue against – how could someone like Steve Tambellini or Kevin Lowe possibly know less about how to run a successful NHL team than Joe Blow? It strikes me though, that if you spend as much money as you can possibly spend (or 98.6% of that amount), you’re probably at the point where you can no longer credibly make that argument. One would ordinarily assume that if you can only get bad players, they’re at least going to come cheap because there’s a virtually inexhaustible supply of them. Somehow, Lowe and Tambellini have managed to completely defy the laws of supply and demand and built an extraordinarily expensive team that looks destined for the draft lottery.

    Amazing.

    About Tyler Dellow

    22 Responses to The Consequences of Horrendous Failure

    1. Quain
      December 7, 2009 at

      Good post, and I’d like to see the follow up on lucky player vs consistent player performance.

      The interesting thing, and this is true for most professional sports, is that getting a lottery pick despite spending >90% of the cap isn’t the worst outcome. Spending >90% of the cap and finishing outside the playoffs AND the lottery range is… at least with the lottery pick you can call the season somewhat of a success, even if you could’ve done it a lot more efficiently.

      I want to see a move towards draft picks being assigned to different teams, randomly. So, this year, instead of Edmonton’s rank determining their pick, it would actually determine Florida’s pick. It would take away a lot of the incentive to tank (unless Florida played Edmonton in the late part of the season) and it would be hilarious when Edmonton pulled Calgary’s name out of the hat one year.

    2. MattN
      December 7, 2009 at

      Someone put forth the idea of the 17th or best team NOT in the playoffs getting the 1st pick. A cooler idea would be to have the lottery teams have a shoot out to decide. This whole balls out of a drum / bingo thing sucks.

    3. Quain
      December 7, 2009 at

      All the teams outside of the playoffs should have an auction to buy the Top 14 picks, in descending order, with the money paid going into revenue sharing. The net result should be Toronto buying the first pick every year, but the real result would be Atlanta bankrupting itself to buy a first overall pick that turns into the next Patrik Stefan.

      I find it hilarious that I couldn’t think of a first overall bust to use in this scenario and when I wiki’d it, the first one I found actually did belong to the Atlanta Thrashers.

    4. December 7, 2009 at

      I think your disappointment in Tamb/Lowe is warranted because the Oilers are, well, bad. And they were pretty bad last season, and they made some horrific offseason moves.

      However, I think the general idea of making a list of teams who spent a bunch of money and got a lottery pick is likely not all that instructive. First off, there’s often very little difference in talent between, say, the 16th best team and the 30th best. Secondly, a GM could very easily do everything right and end up with a brutal season due to bad luck with shooting percentages, injuries, and goaltending.

      In a league with this much parity, preseason it’s probably not hard to envision scenarios for ~75 percent of the teams in which they end up with a lottery pick.

      Given that, I actually think the idea of letting the 17th team get first pick is awesome. Better yet, have a short “lottery pick” playoffs for the teams that miss the real playoffs.

    5. December 7, 2009 at

      MattN – yes, and yes. I’ve long thought that a non-playoff tournament to determine the draft seeds would be fantastic on every level:

      1. extra games and revenue for the non-playoff teams, helping their bottom line
      2. more exciting hockey
      3. teams motivated by playing for the right to draft better teammates

      It would also be interesting towards the trade deadline/stretch run to see which teams would be buyers or sellers, based on having to play their way into a top-four pick. The only possible downside would be with teams who’ve already traded their first-rounder then playing, essentially, for some other team’s high draft position. That could be dicey. Still, I think it could be managed – perhaps first-round picks traded before the tournament would automatically be ordered according to final record, with the draft tournament limited only to teams that still have a pick.

      Example one – last year, Toronto deals its first-rounder to a playoff team. That team would have gotten the seventh pick, and if Toronto had no pick of its own, they do not participate in the draft tournament.
      Example two – last year’s Islanders held their pick AND the San Jose first-rounder (at least to start). They play the tournament to determine their own pick, while the San Jose pick remains at #26 overall.
      Example three – the Bruins currently hold Toronto’s first-rounder as well as their own. If they somehow both miss the playoffs, the Bruins would play for its own spot, while getting the Toronto pick slotted according to final record (currently second).

      I’d love to see any ideas on tweaking and improving the final concept. After that, we can tackle the pity point nonsense…

    6. David Staples
      December 7, 2009 at

      Quain, good point. Spending all that money, losing, but not getting a high pick is the real nightmare, which is why the Oil should move quick in dismantling mode.

      But, of course, they won’t.

    7. Ogden Brother
      December 7, 2009 at

      “Somehow, Lowe and Tambellini have managed to completely defy the laws of supply and demand and built an extraordinarily expensive team that looks destined for the draft lottery.”

      Problem is you are comparing a stagnant cap year vs inflationary cap years. Look at where the other teams currently in lotto range fall on the pay scale.

    8. Triumph
      December 7, 2009 at

      “Quain, good point. Spending all that money, losing, but not getting a high pick is the real nightmare, which is why the Oil should move quick in dismantling mode.”

      is there any way to dismantle this team, besides taking on other people’s problems? almost all these players are unmovable.

    9. mclea
      December 7, 2009 at

      You can only trade a guy without taking back salary if their perceived value exceeds their cap hit. How many guys on the Oilers fit that definition?

      A player’s value in the cap age is:

      Intrinsic Value – Cap Hit

      In the old days, at least when you were trading with the Leafs or Rangers, it was

      Intrinsic Value

      Huge Difference. You can’t move bad contracts anymore. That’s why nobody can make a trade and why it’s impossible to “blow this team up.” The fact that every team now has to value all players using the same formula has virtually eliminated all trade opportunities.

    10. Quain
      December 7, 2009 at

      Dismantling this team isn’t even remotely difficult if your goal is to get a lottery pick. Bad players that have no trade value aren’t worth trading in this scenario, they’re not here much longer and they further your goals (lose!). Shelving Horcoff, value pumping a kid or a weak player (or, conversely, kill a Sam Gagner’s stats), and elevating mediocre options over veterans (Reddox instead of Minard) should be more than enough to get this team to the lottery.

    11. Triumph
      December 7, 2009 at

      “Dismantling this team isn’t even remotely difficult if your goal is to get a lottery pick. Bad players that have no trade value aren’t worth trading in this scenario, they’re not here much longer and they further your goals (lose!). Shelving Horcoff, value pumping a kid or a weak player (or, conversely, kill a Sam Gagner’s stats), and elevating mediocre options over veterans (Reddox instead of Minard) should be more than enough to get this team to the lottery.”

      having someone like lubomir visnovsky doesn’t further your goals, he’s better than taylor chorney, but he’s also untradeable.

      the problem with the bad contracts isn’t that the players who have them don’t produce above replacement level, it’s that the oilers rewarded far too many players who are at or around the nhl average. still, average players help a team be average, which is precisely what you seem to want to avoid.

    12. Kyle M
      December 7, 2009 at

      This is the same argument I’ve been trying to push for a long time – bad contracts, bad players, no where to go. I seriously don’t think this team will be good for another season or two.

      You pretty much have to bring up the Leafs to get an idea of how bad the management in Oiltown has been.

    13. December 7, 2009 at

      is there any way to dismantle this team, besides taking on other people’s problems? almost all these players are unmovable.

      Having Horcoff join Hemsky on LTIR might work.

      Also, does it count as spending 98.6% of the cap if Hemsky’s on LTIR for the last six months of the season? Yes, he’s technically still on the cap and the Oilers can simply spend up to his remaining cap hit ($3Mish) over to replace him if need be, but I’d regard that as a semantic argument in this situation.

    14. mc79hockey
      December 7, 2009 at

      Also, does it count as spending 98.6% of the cap if Hemsky’s on LTIR for the last six months of the season? Yes, he’s technically still on the cap and the Oilers can simply spend up to his remaining cap hit ($3Mish) over to replace him if need be, but I’d regard that as a semantic argument in this situation.

      The Oilers aren’t the only ones who lose percentage if you do it that way. If you wanted to just do it by healthy 23 man roster, everyone would fall.

    15. YKOil
      December 7, 2009 at

      To be fair to Lombardi I have always said that the best way to start a rebuild is to secure bad goaltending. This is the year I wanted to see how smart he REALLY was, i.e. with most every key roster spot filled with a high quality player was he going to secure the goaltending he needed?

      Such is the damnation of promise apparently. IMO he is gambling away that rebuild with Quick and Ersberg. That team will have some good years but I don’t think Quick and Ersberg are championship material.

    16. Triumph
      December 8, 2009 at

      are cam ward, ma fleury, j.s. gigeure, and chris osgood championship-worthy? there’s been some real average goalies winning championships these days. these 4 certainly aren’t bad, but they’re not all-time legends either.

    17. Ogden Brother
      December 8, 2009 at

      I love all the “can’t move salary talk”, really? You can’t? Wan’t Joffry Lupul/Jim Vandemeer/Scott Gomez/Ryan Smyth moved this summer?

    18. December 8, 2009 at

      Triumph – Jury’s out on Ward, I think. A cursory sample of his career suggests he’s clearly better than his backups, and his only two trips to the playoffs have resulted in deep runs. His Cup win was better than his regular season, last year’s run was a bit worse. Even in this year’s fiasco, he’s been better than Legace. I’d also put Fleury in the top third of the goalies playing today, and certainly among young keepers. (Heh, his hockey-reference page is sponsored by someone who writes “Mentally fragile. Chokes in big games. Will never win a Stanley Cup.” How’s the psychic network working out for you, Slappy?)

      I should also confess that I’ve always felt Ozzie was better than most people give him credit for. Supposedly he’s riding Detroit’s coattails, but Marty Brodeur came down from heaven on a beam of light? You’d like to see maybe a better save percentage for the low shots per 60 he sees, but for the most part he does what he needs to do, and he has raised his game in the playoffs several times: ’98, ’99, ’00, ’02 with the Isles (and his regular season was also very good behind a poorer team than the Wings), and the past two seasons.

      Giguere’s record is similar to Ward’s actually, in that he’s had two good playoff runs and decent seasons here and there – only it took him much longer. He’s been outplayed in his own nets by Gerber, Bryzgalov, and now Jonas Hiller. Of the four, I think I’d take him last. I’m willing to be persuaded by a deeper stats analysis, of course.

      Until then, however, I think Bill Ranford stands as the most average Cup-winning goaltender in the expansion era.

    19. Quain
      December 8, 2009 at

      I don’t think I have a qualm with any of that, except that Cam Ward has had one good season, Giguere has had seven or eight… there’s a bit of a difference and I hate Cam Ward enough that I’d prefer to avoid any equivalencies to goaltenders who aren’t awful monsters.

    20. December 8, 2009 at

      Прямо в точку. Здесь наиболее полно раскрыты все аспекты этого вопроса, что достаточно большая редкость.

    21. December 8, 2009 at

      Sunny: “First off, there’s often very little difference in talent between, say, the 16th best team and the 30th best. Secondly, a GM could very easily do everything right and end up with a brutal season due to bad luck with shooting percentages, injuries, and goaltending.”

      Having watched an Atlanta teamed that missed the playoffs by just one win (05-06) and many other Atlanta teams that the lottery, I can’t agree with that statement.

      Lottery pick teams usually have mind-numbingly bad defense/goaltending/offensive problems. Teams that just miss the post season often were decent but had a bit more bad luck than the 14th and 15th ranked teams.

    22. Pingback: GAME DAY 30, Oilers vs Panthers: Fierce competition grinds down Gilbert, then Gagner. | Edmonton Journal

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