• Fortune favours the bold

    by Tyler Dellow • June 8, 2010 • Uncategorized • 36 Comments

    One of the (many) things that drives me nuts about the Oilers’ philosophy is their seeming inability to mesh a number of different approaches to acquiring talent. They’re either in build through free agency/big trade mode or they’re in build through the draft mode. There’s a cost to this singlemindedness and rigid adherence to some sort of a grand plan, as it prevents you from taking advantage of opportunities that might crop up. Lowe made the following comments the other day:

    “We’ve got to get back to what we did for a lot of years,” said Lowe, who was promoted in 2008 after eight seasons as general manager. “We’ve got to get back to our basic principles of drafting and development, get out of the free agent business.”

    “It just seems to be in recent NHL history that the only way you become a contender is you have to go to the back of the bus for a while and regroup,” Lowe said. “We had a pile of injuries this year to key players and in some respects — having been at this for 10 years now — it’s a blessing in disguise.

    “It’s almost like something hit us in the side of the head and said, ‘OK, if you guys can’t figure this out yourself, then we’re going to do it for you.’”

    This, along with quotes from Steve Tambellini, have kind of suggested to me that the Oilers are out of the business of trying to plug holes on the team by acquiring top of the roster players from other teams. There seems to be a fair amount of support for this from people who were disappointed when Nikolai Khabibulin, Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray didn’t put the Oilers over the top. The ill-fated wooing of Dany Heatley and unfortunate Michael Nylander incident, along with a lot of people rejecting the Oilers’ money along the way, hasn’t done much to convince fans of the Oilers of the value in trying to acquire players this way.

    I’m still not convinced that this is a bad way to acquire talent if you can actually acquire elite players and not guys from the next tier, like Penner and Souray. I have Jason Spezza down as a very good hockey player. I don’t think people realize that he’s become a tough minute guy for the Senators. He’s 17th in NHL scoring over the past three seasons, none of which have been banner years for him. He’s a right handed centreman who would fit nicely with Hemsky on the PP. The price isn’t cheap – $7MM annually – but he’s got a front loaded deal, which should make him relatively easy to move if things don’t work after the first three years.

    He’s not a guy who really drives possession but he’s got enough of a history of having an ESS% above the norm that you can expect the team to outscore if he gets a saw-off on the shots and doesn’t get done in by the goaltending behind him. What’s more, he’d be an acquisition for the Oilers who might conceivably open up a window in which they might contend in say years three through five of his deal. If the Oilers were to draft Hall, and had the courage to keep him and MPS out of the NHL next season, they could conceivably have a group of forwards for years three and four of the Spezza deal that included Hemsky, Hall, MPS, Eberle, Horcoff, Gagner and Spezza for less than $30MM. With Horcoff and two others taking on a healthy chunk of the toughs, you could run something like Spezza/Hemsky/Hall against the next tier of competition, a step down for both Hemsky and Spezza from their most recent competition. You’d then be left with Gagner, MPS and Eberle to run out against the best of the rest.

    I’m by no means a prospect guy or a fan of “planning” that includes all of the prospects panning out, but given that Hall is basically a sure thing, and MPS/Eberle have been clearing every hurdle placed in front of them with relative ease, this doesn’t seem like an unreasonable plan to me. It doesn’t seem implausible to me that the young fellows might have advanced enough by 2012-13 that such a group could win. The objective for the Oilers management should be to ratchet up the ceiling of what’s possible. This is the light in which moves should be evaluated, not whether or not they fit in with some faddish mode of team building that the Oilers have decided to employ this week.

    Looking at the pieces that were talked about as potentially going the other way, I don’t really see any of them as being dealbreakers. With Hall, Hemsky, MPS and Eberle, the Oilers may well have four top four wingers for the next five to seven years. Eberle, of all of them, is probably the biggest gamble. If Cogliano is unlikely to be able to make it into the top four, I’m not at all sure it makes sense to keep him long term. If Penner’s deal is up at the end of two more years, he’s not someone you can plan on having on a value pact when the younger fellows are ready.

    For all the talk I’ve seen in the local papers about the Pittsburgh and Chicago models, I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about the other thing that permitted those teams to do what they’ve done, which is leveraging the cheap contracts they’ve enjoyed with some of their young guys by surrounding them with other talented guys. There is some reason to believe that the Oilers might have a special group of young players. The Oilers should be asking themselves how they can best leverage the cheap contracts that they’re going to be playing on. Other than fixing the mistake that they made with Gagner and holding these fellows back for a year or two – Gagner is one of only seven guys through the end of next year who will have burned two years off his ELC before turning 20 – they should be looking at how they can add elite players to the cast that they’ve got.

    You have to have things go right if you’re going to win the Stanley Cup and it’s reasonable to plan as if things will turn out in reasonably well. It’s problematic if you’re planning on Khaibublin being a 65 start number one goalie when he’s 38 but it’s less of a problem where you’re making more reasonable assumptions, like Gagner, Eberle and MPS being able to handle the soft minutes three or four years from now. You’re only going to win the Stanley Cup if your bets pay off and all you can do is make bets that are as reasonable as possible. With Cogliano at the point where he’ll get paid his worth – if he scores 35, he’s going to get paid for it, his worth is diminished to the Oilers. Same goes for Smid. It’s extra true for Penner, who represents wins in the next two years that have little value to the Oilers and then becomes a UFA, who will want whatever the market bears.

    One thing to note from the success of many of the teams in the post-lockout era is that they had a ton of value contracts when they were at their peak. Anaheim had Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Cory Perry on cheap deals. Detroit had guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary who they were grossly underpaying. Pittsburgh had Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on entry level contracts. Chicago has Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith on contracts that are grossly below fair value for those players. Those teams have declined (it’s coming Chicago) once they were through the period in which they were underpaying key contributors.

    The point I’m really driving at is that, in the old NHL, you developed your young guys and then were able to win when they were between the ages of 24-28. Listening to Lowe and Tambellini talk, I sort of get the sense that that’s what they’re building towards. That approach seems to me to be one from the days of the pre-lockout NHL. In today’s NHL, it’s awfully difficult to get the value out of the second and subsequent contracts that you once did – the players that you develop are going to be much closer to earning the value of their contributions at that point. I like Spezza as a potential addition to the Oilers not just because I think he’s a great player but also because his contract meshes reasonably well with the period in which the Oilers are going to have a bunch of guys who are grossly underpaid. He fits with the timing of these group that the Oilers have coming, particularly if they’re willing to delay Hall and MPS a year. I’m not married to the idea of getting Spezza but you aren’t going to get a star in a dump/trade who doesn’t come with some sort of perceived risk. Historically, these things seem to have worked out well – Pronger (2005), Thornton (2005), Heatley (2009)…there was a lot of suspicion about these guys when they were dealt but they all turned out reasonably well. The key thing is to constantly be looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunity that will be created by these fellows.

    You could make the argument that the Oilers should wait another year before trying to add a star but these opportunities don’t arise every year. If you were to try and peg the expected value of the Oilers pick for 2011, you’d probably come up with something like 5th or 6th. The potential of finishing last next year and getting to add another sure thing strikes me as being insignificant enough that you should be willing to forego it by making the team better for next year and the following four by adding someone like Spezza.

    My sense is that this isn’t going to come to pass and that the Oilers are just going to do what they perceive as the conservative thing and stockpile talent through the draft. There are some teams that have obtained some great players through the draft – Tampa comes to mind – and then completely pissed the tremendous advantage of underpaying people away because they didn’t take advantage of the spending room to surround the player with other great players. The Oilers burned that advantage with Gagner, in part because they weren’t willing to delay him and, if they’re going to take the safe route here, the end result will be a more egregious frittering away of the advantage accrued through four years of hockey that ranged from mediocre to atrocious.

    About Tyler Dellow

    36 Responses to Fortune favours the bold

    1. June 8, 2010 at

      Those teams have declined (it’s coming Chicago) once they were through the period in which they were underpaying key contributors.

      The Flames never crested the “elite” hill, but the same is true with them as well.

    2. David Staples
      June 8, 2010 at

      So the Oilers will have cap room in next few years. Why not fill it with a player who definitely earns his money, as opposed to Spezza, who may or may not (as we know very little of his worth as a defensive player)?

      Yes, it’s hard to find that value player, especially in a star player. But why not leave your powder dry so you can pounce on the right player when the time is right, rather than the available player.

    3. Passive Voice
      June 8, 2010 at

      “There are some teams that have obtained some great players through the draft – Tampa comes to mind – and then completely pissed the tremendous advantage of underpaying people away because they didn’t take advantage of the spending room to surround the player with other great players.”

      Which year(s) do you mean?

    4. David Staples
      June 8, 2010 at

      Bottom line, I put to much value on Penner to consider this trade proposal sound.

      I’d rather re-sign Penner for big bucks than pay them to Spezza, unless the Oilers are certain he’s going to be a defensive stalwart as opposed to Patrick O’Sullivan in his own zone, only at centre ice.

      Penner will carry those kids (Hall, MPS, Eberle) at least as well as Spezza might. He did so this year with every player he was with, and arguably helped along Hemsky and Horcoff the year before.

      Why not re-sign Penner for $6 million a year for three or four years, that is if he doesn’t backslide this year?

    5. P-Ow
      June 8, 2010 at

      “Why not re-sign Penner for $6 million a year for three or four years, that is if he doesn’t backslide this year? ”

      Because he plays the same position as both Hall and MPS?

    6. June 8, 2010 at

      “Bottom line, I put to much value on Penner to consider this trade proposal sound.”

      Whoa, thought I was reading an Oilers blog for a minute.

    7. Triumph
      June 8, 2010 at

      yeah i’m curious what you mean with tampa as well. tampa has an absolutely terrible farm system and has been signing people recently, it just hasn’t been going well. their bottom six has basically been a total write-off since the lockout. they’ve also made 2 pretty awful trades since getting stamkos.

    8. NewAlgier
      June 8, 2010 at

      David Staples, please consider the opportunity cost of cap space. Paying full value for a player makes a team WEAKER. That means that you have to make bets that work out. Undervalued contracts (Pronger, Roloson, and Peca in 2006, as well as a pile of cheap young guys) is what buys Stanley Cups, not good hockey players.

      I can’t convince you if you don’t believe this, but it’s true in any business. Success depends on paying less than something is worth, consistently, day after day. The salary cap has made the hockey talent business just like any other, with a real budget constraint (that’s an economic term of art) that must be appropriately valued in order to generate success. And a free agent signing, by definition, is at minimum a fair payment or more.

      I don’t have an opinion on Spezza one way or another, other than to point out that the best n players in the NHL are underpaid by definition, because of the cap on individual salaries. To simply pay full value in free agency for a player who has little chance of outperforming a contract is a sure recipe for the basement. Even Lupul is a good player at $500k/y, assuming that the team as a whole spends up to the cap.

      Katz would never overpay or even pay fair value in the drugstore business. Odd that he’s doing it in the hockey business.

    9. godot10
      June 8, 2010 at

      You are wrong. Spezza’s contract doesn’t mesh with the Oilers building a long term contender, because it is too long. It runs into the period when Hall/Seguin, Paajarvi, Eberle, Hemsky, Whitney, etc have to be re-signed.

      Spezza means you are betting it all on a single shot at the Cup in two years or three years, because you are still stuck with Spezza’s contract (as Chicago is with Campbell and Huet) when you have to re-sign everybody.

      You are relying on other teams letting the Oilers off the hook cap wise at the end of the deal. Not likely.

      That, plus Spezza just really isn’t that good. Spezza best point production years are not behind him. In the next five years, Gagner should be able to produce offensively and defensively numbers close enough to Spezza’s to be much better value for money.

      Alfredsson drove the bus in Ottawa. Spezza’s point totals are inflated because of that. They were also inflated because the Eastern Conference was weak relative to the West, and the Northeaat wasn’t a very physical conference unlike the Northwest. The Senators want to dump Spezza because the Northeast is getting more physical, with Chara in Boston, and Burke in Toronto. Spezza will not survive first contact with Robyn Regehr very well.

      There is no value for money in Spezza, and it guarentees perpetual cap hell. Keep the cap room so one can be the predator of teams in cap trouble, not one of the prey. Keep the flexibility to be opportunistic.

      FWIW, I think Penner is a better player than Spezza at 60% of the cost. The tougher or more physical the game gets, Penner gets better. The tougher or more physical the game gets, Spezza gets worse.

    10. David Staples
      June 8, 2010 at

      @New Algier.
      You’re making the same point as me. My argument is that Spezza isn’t nearly worth his deal at $7 million a year (though I freely admit I don’t know enough about his defensive game to be certain of that.)

      I do know Penner had a great year, following a good year, and that he outplayed his contract this year. If he can continue that, I doubt Spezza will be a better player over the next five seasons, and I suspect Spezza would earn more money in that time period. So why favour him over Penner? If you’re so in need of a centre, there’s other options than overpaying Spezza.

      Of course, there’s no consensus on Penner’s value, but I’ve noticed many folks consistently under-rated him — likely because of his lumbering, seen-him-bad style of play — and would trade him without a second thought. The Oilers themselves almost made that mistake last summer . . .

    11. dawgbone
      June 8, 2010 at

      Triumph, I think he means when they had Richards, Lecavalier and St. Louis all signed to ridiculously good deals. They sort of did it in 03-04 (adding guys like Fedotenko), but I think they missed the boat on going on a 2-3 year cup finals run.

      The more I think of it, the more I think that it makes sense to trade guys away at 25 if you want to go on an extended cup run.

      As soon as these guys have playoff success, they cost more. So why worry about 5 guys needing big bucks? Send 2 of them away and get a high first round pick for them and start the process over again.

      You can’t keep your core group together, so trade some away and add high-end prospects and value vets to your lineup.

    12. Quain
      June 8, 2010 at

      godot: You are wrong. Spezza’s contract doesn’t mesh with the Oilers building a long term contender, because it is too long. It runs into the period when Hall/Seguin, Paajarvi, Eberle, Hemsky, Whitney, etc have to be re-signed.

      That calls into belief two possible assumptions: One, that Spezza is overpaid relative to his contributions or market and, two, that those players will be underpaid on their next contracts. One, I think, is possible, but I disagree with it. And, if the recent trend is any indictation, it’s entirely likely that two is false given that our young players could likely be overpaid on their next contract given the tendancy to sign players to $6MM contracts and hope they grow into and above them (Kane is a great example of a young guy who isn’t earning his scratch yet.)

      The fact of the matter is that, come second contract time, all of those players (Whitney/Hemsky would be even wrose, given we’re talking third contract) are likely to make money in line with their current production or assumed production two years down the line. If we accept that Eberle is going to get $5MM and contribute $5MM worth of production would we really be worse off trading him and keeping Spezza (who, regardless of who is driving the bus, could certainly put up 90+ points with Hemsky/Hall flanking him)?

      That also calls into question another point. Given the wingers we’re going to have, and assuming Horcoff wouldn’t be a piece going back, there is plenty of firepower to surround Spezza and get him back to elite, soft minute point totals. 30 year old Centers scoring 90 points a season are never unmovable. If you invest Penner, Cogliano, and a second to get Spezza back, I have a hard time believing you couldn’t get a similar haul back three or four years down the line.

    13. godot10
      June 8, 2010 at

      Spezza and Gagner are roughly the same player over the next five years. Gagner probably 80% of the boxcar offense at 60% of the salary.

      Gagner will be better value for money, and value for money in a capped world is what contributes to winning.

      Duplicating the skillset creates a hole in the roster, because neither will ever be an elite power-vs-power centre. Only room for one and I’ll choose Gagner over Spezza.

      Spezza leaves the Oilers in perpetual cap hell. He would make it extremely difficult to sign Hemsky to another contract. Hemsky would have to be paid more, and one would have to offer duration to get the cap number down.

      But basically, Spezza is trying to build for the future by looking backwards. Like investing in the stockmarket based on backward looking data, rather than on forward looking data.

      Trying to fix up the broken down car.

      Name the last team to win a Stanley Cup where the best player and the core was not mostly homegrown.

      If a team cannot internally produce a core group, it is not going to contend, because an internally produced core group is evidence that one has a solid organization with the right processes.

      Whale-hunting before the organization and processes and internally developed core is doomed to failure, because one is bringing a whale into an unformed culture.

      I wouldn’t want Malkin either on principle, even though Malkin (unlike Spezza) is probably worth his contract.

      Spezza is wrong on two counts, on principle, and because he is overrated as a hockey player.

      The Oilers have to fix the organization first. Only no-name advanced stat friendly free agents on value contracts please.

    14. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      As far as Tampa goes, they’ve had a hell of a player in Stamkos and look to be on the precipice of getting nothing out of his ELC in terms of leveraging the fact that they’re paying $3.7MM for a fifty goal scorer. That was the point I was driving at.

      David – the offensive gap between Penner and Spezza is just stunningly wide. In your post on the subject, you point out that Penner was better than Spezza at evens last year in terms of offence. That’s true but any future projection of them has to take into account what you expect the offence will be going forward. I don’t think expecting a 20 point gap from Spezza is all that unreasonable.

      By my math, a marginal standings point costs, on average, about $775K. We know that it takes about 2.5-3 goal differential for a marginal standings point. Spezza makes $2.75MM more in marginal money than Penner. Is he worth an extra 9-11 goal differential a year? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me in the least to think that he is. With Penner’s pact coming up in two years, the financial difference between them will likly diminish further, making the advantage that Spezza needs to have over him even smaller for the dollars to be sensible.

      Tom Awad’s system, which I don’t endorse, had Penner at about 13.0 marginal goals/82 last year and Spezza at 15.2. Keep in mind that this is Spezza’s worst season and that Awad’s system doesn’t take into account save percentages – Penner gets a bump there from the better save percentage that the Oilers had behind him.

      In any event, with the Oilers about to have a bunch of very cap friendly contracts for a period of years, you can have contracts that you get less out of.

    15. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      Every team that has won the Cup since 2007 has had players who were added on to whom they were paying significant money:

      ANA – Pronger and Niedermayer
      DET – Ralfaski and Hasek
      PIT – Gonchar
      CHI – Hossa and Campbell

      You can argue that Spezza isn’t the right guy for the Oilers to be looking for or that they should wait and get a guy down the road. As far as the former, well, that’s a matter of opinion. The latter though…I think that there are good reasons not to wait. The star UFA want big commitments going forward, which really screws your cap situation, as CHI is about to find out. Spezza’s deal expires a year or two after the young guys start getting paid. Horc would tradeable at that point as well – relatively cheap ticket.

      	2010-11	2011-12	2012-13	2013-14	2014-15
      Spezza       	7	7	7	7	7
      Horcoff	5.5	5.5	5.5	5.5	5.5
      Hemsky	4.1	4.1	6	6	6
      Gagner	       4	4	4	4	4
      Hall		3.7	3.7	3.7	6
      Eberle	1.188	1.188	1.188	4	4
      MPS		1.525	1.525	1.525	5
      Total  	21.788	27.013	28.913	31.725	37.5
      
    16. OilW30
      June 8, 2010 at

      Why is Hall at 3.7 mil for his first three years?

    17. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      It’s the rookie max.

    18. speeds
      June 8, 2010 at

      godot10:

      If the cap figures to be a problem in 2 or 3 years, why can’t the Oilers just move Spezza at that time?

      The only way the cap becomes a problem is if the youngsters perform very, very well, and in that case it’s probably likely that Spezza’s stats will have looked pretty good over the 2 or 3 hypothetical seasons in Edmonton, making him easy to move (and probably for nearly as good value as you’d pay for him now) if necessary since he’s only making 2/3 of his cap hit.

      His NTC goes away if traded before July 1st, the acquiring team isn’t bound by it.

      olW30: Hall is at 3.7 because that’s what 1st overall picks get for their ELC with bonuses included. It might even be 3.8 mil, I don’t have the CBA handy so I’m not sure when the next scheduled increase is to the rookie max.

    19. overpass
      June 8, 2010 at

      Sens fan here. IMO, the biggest question about Spezza’s value going forward is if he can stay healthy. It goes beyond the games missed. He’s played parts of the last two or three seasons with nagging back injuries, strained chest muscles, strained groin, etc.

      See this past season, for example. He spent his first 30 games playing with a bad back, during which he had 5 goals and 14 assists. Then he had a knee injury, missed a month and a half, came back healthy, and scored 18 goals and 20 assists in his last 30 games. A lot of the difference was in his shooting percentage, but he looked quicker and stronger after coming back from his knee injury. And some of the shooting percentage difference may be a real effect, as I remember hearing that his back and chest injuries made it difficult for him to shoot well.

      I think a healthy Spezza is worth $7 million. I don’t think he’s a liability in the defensive zone at all – he’s got size, a good stick, and he’s good on faceoffs. And he’s a terrific offensive player. The problem is that you can’t count on getting a healthy Spezza, as he appears to be injury-prone. But it could also be an opportunity to get a very talented player, if he stays healthy.

    20. Passive Voice
      June 8, 2010 at

      “As far as Tampa goes, they’ve had a hell of a player in Stamkos and look to be on the precipice of getting nothing out of his ELC in terms of leveraging the fact that they’re paying $3.7MM for a fifty goal scorer. That was the point I was driving at.”

      Hm. Well, to be fair to Tampa, I don’t think it was totally a case of unwillingness to spend on vets. By my count, they were paying right around $20m to surround Stamkos and Downie with Lecavalier, St Louis, Malone and Tanguay last year. Didn’t work out, but I’m not sure you can say it was “because they didn’t take advantage of the spending room to surround the player with other great players.”

      I think a better example is NYI. They’ve already burned a year of Tavares, and two years of Bailey and Okposo. I’m impressed they managed to hold off on doing same with Hamonic and De Haan.

    21. June 8, 2010 at

      One of the (many) things that drives me nuts about the Oilers’ philosophy is their seeming inability to mesh a number of different approaches to acquiring talent. They’re either in build through free agency/big trade mode or they’re in build through the draft mode. There’s a cost to this singlemindedness and rigid adherence to some sort of a grand plan

      Might as well start from the top, Tyler. While you and I agree – at least until this post! – on the folly of whale-hunting, I do not accept that while the Oilers were doing so the past n summers they weren’t trying to build through the draft. The last two drafts especially have been excellent from all accounts. The last time I was this optimistic about the 18- and 19-year old prospects in the system might have been 1980 or so. It’s early of course, but one could argue that all of Eberle, Hartikainen, MPS, Lander, and Roy have outperformed their draft number; possibly Motin, Cornet and Rajala as well.

      Tongue in cheek, one could also argue the two approaches have actually been complementary – whale hunting has proven so fucking disastrous that we now have the #1 pick to build with.

    22. godot10
      June 8, 2010 at

      I lived in Ottawa for 14 years till last January. I lived in the market. I’m single. I hung out a bit in the clubs even though I am a geezer, well because you get to know some of the people running the clubs. When Emery and McGrattan were out drinking and partying destroying their careers, Spezza was out with them facilitating their self-destructive and team destructive behavior.

      If Spezza had character why would he not be embracing being THE guy in Ottawa now. He has his big contract. It doesn’t have to be about the points. It only has to be about winning and leading HIS team. But its gotten a little bit tough now. The bus driver, Alfie is getting older. The fans don’t love him any more. And instead of standing up and being a man and a leader, Spezza wants to pull-a-Heatley and start over somewhere else, where people haven’t figured out what he is, where he can pull his con for a couple more years.

      Spezza isn’t mentally or physically tough. How can you develop mental or physical toughness is Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi if you highest paid players is soft-as-butter and isn’t the bus driver.

      Why wasn’t he there for Emery or McGrattan when the going got tough for them? Why isn’t he there for the Senators when the going is getting a little tough for the team now?

    23. David Staples
      June 8, 2010 at

      @Tyler. Yes, it’s certainly possible Spezza will regain his offensive mojo and be a far more productive offensive player than Penner over the next five years, even if Spezza wasn’t that player this past season.

      Let’s accept that this happens, and Spezza is involved in 20 more scoring plays than Penner each year, as you suggest is likely.

      But what of his defence? This is an unknown for me, but I do know Penner is the Oil’s best defensive winger.

      A bad defensive winger (think Ethan Moreau, Patrick O’Sullivan) against tough competition with a lot of playing time, will make mistakes that contribute to roughly 30-35 goals against his team at even strength in a season.

      Now, by my observation (which some trust, others simply do not), Penner is a good-to-great defensive winger (largely because of his smart positional play). He makes mistakes that cause just 15 goals against a year.

      A good centre, such as Shawn Horcoff in 2008-09, will make mistakes on roughly just 20 even strength goals, even against tough competition even strength.

      A weak defensive centre will make mistakes on about 35-40 even strength goals in a season, if he faces tough competition. And that’s what my fear is with Spezza, that he leaks goals against, so whatever you gain on offence with him, you lose on defence.

      That’s Spezza’s reputation, that he’s soft in his own zone, but I don’t know if that’s a fair and accurate assessment.

    24. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      And some of the shooting percentage difference may be a real effect, as I remember hearing that his back and chest injuries made it difficult for him to shoot well.

      Yeah, I don’t deny that this is possible at all. And it’s a fair point.

      David – While I actually do read a lot of the error stuff you write, I’ve got some real difficulty with the conclusion that you’ve come to. The save percentage difference between Penner and Spezza over the past three years is .003. The difference that you’re suggesting in defensive skill doesn’t seem, to me, to be borne out by what we know about how save percentage tracks from year to year.

    25. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      And Penner’s probably had better goalies behind him, on average, the past three years.

    26. Mr DeBakey
      June 8, 2010 at

      Compare & contrast:

      1] “Sens fan here….I don’t think he’s a liability in the defensive zone at all – he’s got size, a good stick, and he’s good on faceoffs. And he’s a terrific offensive player.”

      2] “A weak defensive centre will make mistakes on about 35-40 even strength goals in a season, if he faces tough competition. And that’s what my fear is with Spezza, that he leaks goals against, so whatever you gain on offence with him, you lose on defence.”

    27. overpass
      June 8, 2010 at

      I’ll elaborate on my comments about Spezza’s defensive game. At this point in Ottawa, the problem people have with him is poor decision making with the puck. He’ll make a stupid play where he tries to beat someone one-on-one at the blueline, or he makes a back pass that gets picked off, the puck ends up in his net, and after the game that’s the story. Whether you call that defensive play or not, it’s a problem, but I think it tends to get blown out of proportion.

      His play without the puck in the defensive zone has been pretty good. Like Penner, I think the effect of his size in the defensive zone is underappreciated. He takes away space, and he’s more effective in puck battles than he looks. He’s not a great defensive centre, and he doesn’t look as good as some guys who are quicker and more active, but he’s not a liability.

      Ottawa coaches seem to agree. While his talents are better suited to offensive zone faceoffs, he’s always taken his share of defensive zone faceoffs. And while Fisher and Kelly are better all-around defensive centres in Ottawa, there have been times when Spezza goes out for the big defensive zone draw because he’s been the best faceoff man on the team since Vermette was traded.

    28. David Staples
      June 8, 2010 at

      @Tyler. Defensive save percentage would cover all of the goals that Penner and Spezza are on for, but they are only one of five players on their team out at even strength. So Penner might be out for 50 goals against, though responsible for just 15 of those goals against in some way. Spezza, who plays a more difficult defensive position might be out for 45 goals against a year, but responsible for 30 of them.

      Again, though, while I have some confidence that Penner himself doesn’t leak goals, I have no real idea about Spezza’s defensive play, other than his so-called “soft” reputation.

    29. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      David –

      In order for your defensive stat to have merit, it would have to repeat year over year. If it’s completely random from year to year, then it suggests that you’re tracking something else.

      Let me try and come at this another way. Over the past three years, the GA/60 with Spezza on the ice on 5v5 has been 2.55 GA/60. Penner is at 2.33 GA/60. The save percentage is .913 Spezza, .916 Penner.

      Let’s assume, as you suggest, that Penner is a superior defensive player while Spezza is of an unknown quality. We know that, on average in the past three years, Penner has been on the ice for 41 goals against on 487 shots, while Spezza has been on for 47 and 545.

      Say Penner is responsible for just 15 of those goals annually. What would you put an average defensive winger at? If it’s 20, that means that the on-ice save percentage of the Oilers would have been .906. If it’s 25, that means that the on-ice save percentage of the Oilers would have been .895. There’s going to be some survivor bias, sure, but nobody puts up those kind of numbers year over year. It is a necessary corrollary of your theory that we can learn something about a player’s defensive competence by assigning errors on goals that players have an impact on the on-ice save percentage, or so it seems to me. Given that there’s a pile of evidence suggesting that that just ain’t the case, I see a real problem with what you’re suggesting.

      Similarly, in Spezza’s case, you suggestd he might be responsible for 30 goals against. Again – let’s assume he’s bad and that a good defensive centre would be responsible for 20 goals against. That would drop the Senators down to 37 GA on 545 SA, or a .932 save percentage, something that virtually nobody sustains over time.

      I’m inclined to think that defence, at the NHL level, is preventing the other side from getting chances, not having a material impact ont the quality of those chances.

      FWIW, becaus I love video, I’ve started poring over the Sens goals with Spezza on the ice.

    30. NewAlgier
      June 8, 2010 at

      The other issue is that you need to be dynamite sure with a $7 million contract. There is absolutely no margin for error: if Spezza underperforms, you are screwed.

      But the Oilers are likely screwed anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter much. And with a front-end loaded deal, the bailout option to Tampa or NYI is very real and very attractive.

      As far as intangibles go, an injury prone player absolutely doesn’t belong on the Oilers. They cannot and will not protect their assets. And the knock on character matters more as a player gets older. MacTavish he is not.

      I’m on the fence.

    31. Tyler Dellow
      June 8, 2010 at

      The character stuff is awful slippery and elusive though. I mean, I take what godot10 tells us at face value but Spezza also married last summer. I also don’t think he’s a drug and alcohol counsellor or responsible for whatever problem McGrattan and Emery had.

      He’s pretty obviously going to be worth the money he makes for the last two years on his deal, I think – $9MM over two years is nothing for a guy of his talent. He’ll be a moveable commodity if things don’t pan out.

      Funny thing – I’d feel better if MacT was coaching the Oilers with Spezza on the team. Watching some of the highlights of the goals against with him on the ice, I can see how he infuriates some people – he’s got a bit of a tendency to just look lost or circle the defensive zone, without sort of actively impeding things. That said, while I suspect he could cut down on the SA with some more attention to detail, I’m still not convinced we’re talking about a ton of difference or that he’s that bad.

    32. Traktor
      June 9, 2010 at

      “How can you develop mental or physical toughness is Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi if you highest paid players is soft-as-butter and isn’t the bus driver.”

      In that case we better sign someone who makes more than Horcoff.

    33. David Staples
      June 9, 2010 at

      In your post you write, “Say Penner is responsible for just 15 of those goals annually.”

      But that’s not what I would say, and this is a crucial point. I would say, “Penner is partially responsible for just 15 of those goals annually.”

      Year in, year out, he makes a goal-causing mistake on 15 of those goals, but he’s very often not the only one to make a mistake on those goals against, nor does he often make the biggest mistake (On average about three players make some mistake on a goal against).

      I’m no expert all on the impact that great defensive players have on a team’s save percentage when they are on the ice.

      Does any defensive superstar (Pronger, Zettergerg, Lidstrom) in the league have any massive impact on defensive save percentage?

      It would surprise me if that’s the case, just as it would surprise me if an offensive player had a huge impact on team shooting percentage when he’s on the ice. No matter how good he is, he’s just one of five players.

      Of course, I could be wrong about that. Maybe when Spezza is on the ice the Senators shoot five to ten per cent better, year after year.

      I don’t know. But is that what you’re suggesting should be the case, if we’re to put any value on his point totals?

      I do know this, that if you want to get scored on, you put out Patrick O’Sullivan and/or Ethan Moreau and/or Taylor Chorney and/or Jason Strudwick. How these defensive disasters impact the team’s save percentage when they’re on the ice is an unknown to me, and I don’t have access to that data, or I’d look it up.

    34. David Staples
      June 9, 2010 at

      I agree that defence at the NHL level is all about stopping the other team from getting chances, and if we tracked each player’s fault on all scoring chances — if we had an individual scoring chance metric — that would be the best stat of all.

      I also have a feeling it would line up well over a full season with how many mistakes a player makes on actual goals against.

      But, of course, I can’t prove that right now.

      Bottom line: I’m certain that Penner makes mistakes that create Grade A opposition scoring chances far, far less often than O’Sullivan and Moreau do.

      I also believe that Horcoff very likely makes mistakes that cause Grade A opposition scoring chances much less than Spezza does (though that’s more speculative on my part, only going by Spezza’s rep).

    35. David Staples
      June 10, 2010 at

      FWIW, I’ve also been thinking of looking at the video of GAON for Spezza at evens to determine if he’s a sound defensive player.

      Spezza is on the block, so it might be worth the effort.

      The NHL.com clips are OK for judging a mistakes a player might make on a goal against, not far from conclusive. The clips are often too short to see the up-ice mistakes that a forward will make early in a goal against scoring sequence (and you also only get one replay of the goal).

      I have one final question with your argument.

      You’ve put it earlier that you favour Spezza over Penner because likely going to be in on 20 more goals a year than Penner.

      Fair enough.

      But, to put it in your own words, it is a necessary corollary of your theory that we can learn something about a player’s offensive competence by looking at his points on goals that players have an impact on the on-ice shooting percentage. Is there some kind of correlation here?

    36. Deano
      June 12, 2010 at

      Late to the party here. Just a comment about Lowe’s move to go ‘back’ to drafting.

      An NHL franchise currently comes with 7 draft choices per year. Not getting the most out of them is just stupid. Regardless of any other strategy, teams should always take the draft seriously.

      I think its a reasonable expectation to be able to build a competitive (not championship) team around turning 2 of your 7 picks into NHL players each season, year in, year out. My ‘recipe’ to do this includes making sure your first round pick turns into an NHL player. You then need one of your other 6 picks to turn out – every year. This means likely no Dubnyks, Schremps, Bonsignores etc in the first round. Low probability. The first rounder must become a player.

      It also means that you have to pass on the offer sheet shenanigans involving first round picks.

      Just my thoughts on the ‘real’ goal for Stu M.

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