• Belanger’s Third Year

    by Tyler Dellow • January 16, 2012 • Hockey • 38 Comments

    Jason Gregor made what I think is a very fair point over on OilersNation about Eric Belanger the other day.

    He hasn’t dipped the past few years, in fact his point totals increased slightly. No one could have predicted he’d be this bad, so saying he was a bad signing is wrong. He’s been bad, but the signing wasn’t. He hasn’t produced, and for some strange reason Renney continues to play him too many minutes. Rip on how he has been used, rip on Belanger for not performing, but saying it was the wrong signing is cherry-picking in my opinion.

    When Cam Barker was signed, some people raised an eyebrow due to his injury history and because his game was trending downwards. For those who questioned it then, it is completely fair and accurate to question it now. Belanger isn’t in the category. He’s flat out played awful. Blame him. He’s been given ample opportunity to produce, but he hasn’t.

    Belanger’s shooting something like 1.4%. Some are favoured by the hockey gods at certain times; other’s aren’t. So it goes.

    There wasn’t a lot of complaining about Belanger when he was signed – the Oilers needed another centre and people were generally thrilled. I was re-watching Oil Change this weekend though and something caught my eye. There are a couple scenes in the first episode relating to the signing of Eric Belanger.

    The first is a discussion as to whether or not Belanger is a guy for the Oilers. There’s a glimpse of computer screen filled with the Oilers’ statistical analysis, which is depressingly basic. Faceoff stats are discussed, with no discussion of whether he’s better or worse than his numbers as a result of his mix of PP/ES/PK faceoffs. Notably, Tambo asks if the scouts would be comfortable with him on a two year deal, which gets a “Yop” that I initially thought was a “No.”

    A few minutes later, Tambo struts down the hall while music of victory plays:

    Tambo: “OK, you got your centreman.”

    Voiceover: “Eric Belanger signs a three year deal and gives his endorsement to the Oilers’ rebuild.”

    Tambo: “One of the reasons why he wanted a three year deal is because he sees what’s happening, not next year, in year two and three, and ‘if I’m gonna go there, I wanna be part of that, in year two and three.’”

    Other guy in room: “Good day today Tambi!”

    Tambo: “Isn’t that incredible, how much…”

    It cuts out there but Tambo just looks genuinely moved by the endorsement that Eric Belanger has given his work in rebuilding the Oilers. Imagine that: a guy who wants to be in Edmonton for not one, not two but three years! Watching it, I wondered if the Oilers had any idea what the attrition rate was for guys coming off a 33 year old season. Between 2005-06 and 2007-08, 62 33 year old forwards played 3949 NHL games. Between 2008-09 and 2010-11, 36 year old forwards played 1975 NHL games. So about a 50% decline in games played. Slice it another way. 35 33 year olds played 70+ games in the period in question. 15 of those guys didn’t last to play an age 36 season. So a 57% survival rate of guys who managed 70+ games in a season.

    You wonder if the Oilers knew those numbers – they had Morey Gare reading GP numbers off a screen and saying “Looks pretty durable Tambi!” I’ll bet his agent was well aware of the odds – you can’t really advise your client without knowing this. This suggests that teams probably tend not to be interested in 35 year old forwards. If I’m his agent and I can get him that third year guaranteed at $1.75MM, I’m doing everything I can to get it. Or, put another way: “If I’m gonna go there, I wanna be part of that, in year two and three.”

    To come back to Gregor’s point at the start, I think Belanger was coming off a good season and made sense to sign. I have much more difficulty with the argument that the third year made the least bit of sense. I’m going to come back to Tambo’s future later this week (spoiler: I’d replace him) but seeing him standing there, smiling as he recites what the helpful agent told him…well, it says it all, doesn’t it?

    (One other note: Tambo has an iPad on his desk and at one point, you can see what he’s looking at.)

    Only the most sophisticated data analysis for the Oilers, it would appear.

    About Tyler Dellow

    38 Responses to Belanger’s Third Year

    1. dawgbone
      January 16, 2012 at

      I wonder if he uses the Capgeek trader app.

    2. dawgbone
      January 16, 2012 at

      Going back to Belanger.

      I don’t think he’s played bad personally, he just can’t seem to score. To me there’s a big difference between the 2.

      I also didn’t mind the 3rd year for the simple reason that he’s a legitimate NHL C and the Oilers have spent enough time trying to replace Brodziak that the extra year on the deal was worth it to fill the hole.

      But I have no doubt Belanger went after the 3rd year for the security more than the opportunity to build something special.

      • high hopes
        January 17, 2012 at

        Limbo. In the theology of the Catholic Church, Limbo (Latin limbus, edge or boundary, referring to the “edge” of Hell) is a speculative idea about the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the damned.

        Welcome to the edges of hell, Eric Belanger…not for your sins but the sins of others.

        Agree that the signing was a good one even if the term was wrongheaded. In both Minnesota and Phoenix Belanger was the kind of hardworking, modestly gifted catalyst that makes your team better. Now, like so many before him he has entered the twilight zone, the “inferno” of incompetence of Lowbellini and the octagenerian troll Renney. He can hardly be blamed for that.

    3. January 16, 2012 at

      Goals, Assists, penalty minutes and +/-. Wow, he’s got everything!

    4. January 16, 2012 at

      I’ve never watched an episode of Oil Change, I get enough of the rebuild on the ice without watching the Oilers made for TV version of it, but those two screen captures make me a little sad that I haven’t. The data the Oilers appear to be working from is depressing but funny as hell at the same time.

    5. Derek
      January 16, 2012 at

      Anyone else notice the document is titled “Staticstical [sic] Analysis?”

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 16, 2012 at

        I hadn’t. That’s hilarious though.

      • January 16, 2012 at

        Great observation. Beyond funny.

      • January 16, 2012 at

        It be hilarious to watch NHL Hockey Ops guys work real jobs.

      • Bruce McCurdy
        January 17, 2012 at

        “Staticstial” actually.I think it’s the science of standing pat.

        • Coach Pb
          January 27, 2012 at

          Tyler needs a rec button.

    6. PunjabiOil
      January 16, 2012 at

      This is depressing

    7. Triumph
      January 16, 2012 at

      In addition to what you cited, Tyler, there’s the simple fact that players 35 and older get dinged by the CBA – someone like Belanger, who’s been basically an average player for 10 years now, isn’t going to draw a multi-year contract at age 35 – if he wants to keep playing in the NHL past 35, it’s almost certainly going to have to be on one-year deals, which means moving one’s family around, possibly getting traded at the deadline, and so forth. Given what Eric went through the previous year, it’s even more understandable.

      Obviously a third year on a Belanger contract isn’t wise, but projecting him as a 4th line player/13th forward in his final year isn’t going to kill the cap of a team that’s going to be where the Oilers think they’re going to be in 2013-14.

    8. mattwatt
      January 16, 2012 at

      I noticed this too when the episode aired, and thought to myself at the time “that is it for statistical inference!?!?!” Drove me mad. I have two theories for the above screen shot:
      a) The real nut and bolts statistics that the Oiler brass uses to make decisions, they do not want others to see due to competitive advantage these stats bring (highly unlikely); or
      b) This Oilers brass is great at bringing knives to gun fights (very likely).

      Man these guys suck. Big time.

      • Saj
        January 16, 2012 at

        I would guess it’s (b) above, as the last few years worth of results would suggest.

    9. rpk99
      January 16, 2012 at

      I just discovered this cap geek trader thingy.
      I traded Chara to the Oil for Whitney , Pecks, and Barker. It went through! awesome…

    10. Mike W
      January 16, 2012 at

      Parity being what it is, a winning team will exploit the narrowest edge in competition and explore all insights that statistical analysis can offer. Not the Oilers. Executives literally have *all day* to do this kind of stuff, and hell, any old Joe Lunchbucket with a blog and a full-time job doesn’t have to look far to realize the value in intermediate stats.

      What’s Tambo’s excuse?

      I’d like to see a list of bad signings of players finishing a career-year that could have been avoided just by looking at shooting percentage alone. What a waste.

    11. Garnet
      January 16, 2012 at

      This is the most vivid reply imaginable to Staples’ “you think you could do better?” position on critics. Anyone who watches this has to think, “Absolutely – all I have to do is actually analyse the numbers thoughtfully – or even if I can’t, just hire someone who can.”
      This isn’t some data vs. intuition argument – they’re already making decisions based on numbers anyway, just not very well.

    12. Bulging Twine
      January 16, 2012 at

      Watching the Oil Change series I have been quite disappointed in the way they conduct their meetings, appears to be very bush league. To me there is a lack of depth in discussion and evaluation.
      The amateur scouting meetings looked the same way to me.
      I think that management would benefit from a field trip to an NFL team and see the depth’s that they go to in evaluating talent. They appear to be much more organized and thorough.

      • dawgbone
        January 16, 2012 at

        In fairness, I wouldn’t want to lose my competetive advantage by divulging what I’m really look for/at.

        Take Oil change for what it is… fodder for fans.

        • Gm0ney
          January 23, 2012 at

          Yes, everyone wants to know the Oilers’ secrets! How do they ice such a terrible team every year?! WE MUST KNOW!!!

    13. Brendan Berg
      January 16, 2012 at

      Official vote for Tyler Dellow as special advisor to the next GM of the Oilers.

      • January 16, 2012 at

        I’ve maintained for a little while now that if someone set up a small group of say, Dellow/Mirtle/Desjardins to run a NHL team, that they’d have a pretty god damned decent NHL team. Send them all to New Jersey, make it a reality show, and bam, NJD is making money again!

        • Matt
          January 16, 2012 at

          If the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays bought the Lightning and just absorbed the them into the organization and had Andrew Friedman and his guys manage both teams I have 0 doubts that they would have a championship caliber team in less than 3 years.

          I pick this example because the point I want to make is that I don’t think success in management has all that very much to do with knowledge (whether it be of traditional scouting methods or analytical ability or whatever) but everything to do with attitude. And so you know that a team like the Rays will never stop searching for new methods to evaluate the game because they know that if there’s a weakness in the way they manage their assets and somebody finds it before they do, they are going to be in big trouble.

          It’s the sort of thing which never seems to happen in the NHL, which is strange considering the tremendous success franchises in other leagues have had stressing it.

    14. godot10
      January 16, 2012 at

      The problem with the Belanger is not the signing, but in how he is being used. He is being used a line too high, and on the power play. He should be the 4th line centre. By playing him on the 3rd line, you are making your 3rd and 4th lines subpar. Right player, horribly inappropriate use of talent by a bad coach. Just wait. When Nugent-Hopkins gets healthy, instead of moving Belanger down to the 4th line, Renney will probably move Gagner back to wing. The coach is a fool. Tambellini better realize that the friend he hired as coach will cost him his job.

      Eager, Belanger, and say Jones would be solidly average 4th line.

      Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle
      Hall, Gagner, Hemsky
      Paajarvi, Horcoff, Omark
      Eager, Belanger, Jones

      • RiversQ
        January 16, 2012 at

        Sorry, this argument doesn’t pass muster. You don’t sign 4th line centres to three year deals at $1.75MM/yr. That’s an absurd rate for a position most teams are filling with a replacement level player. 4th line centres usually need 2-4 min of PKTOI just to get close to 10 min/game.

        • godot10
          January 16, 2012 at

          If you intend on playing a rookie 18-year old centre and Sam Gagner, you do.

          You need a quality 4th liner to PK, and to be able to use for defensive zone face-offs, and to be injury insurance for Horcoff. 3-years is fine because that 18-year old is on a 3-year entry level contract. The Oilers are a wealthy enough franchise that they can bury contract in the 3rd year if Belanger is done by then.

          Belanger was a sensible signing, until Renney made the dumb decision to NOT play Gagner at centre, and make Belanger his permanent 3rd line centre.

          • dawgbone
            January 17, 2012 at

            You still don’t sign these guys to terms that long.

            Belanger was brought in to play 15+ minutes per night. Given the fact that Horcoff and Ganger have both missed significant time in recent years with injuries, extra C depth is that much more important.

            Belanger’s problem is that it’s just a crapy year for him and that happens… not that he’s playing too much. He’s playing the same role as he has the last few years.

          • Mike
            January 17, 2012 at

            You think they intended on playing an 18-year old centre on July 1?

            Belanger had been pencilled in as the 3C since the start.

    15. Matt
      January 16, 2012 at

      Wait guys, you can see a display there for a category starting with the letter A and a sub-category “OV”

      That could be advanced statistics right there. Of course they wouldn’t show that stuff on TV… and sure it only looks like it takes up something like a 10th of the screen while the hits and blocked shots totals are displayed more prominantly, but it could be something.

      Of course knowing the Oilers that’s probably a list of Belanger’s player ratings in the EA Sports series of NHL games :(

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 16, 2012 at

        Sorry – you can see it in the video. It’s TOI.

    16. Dominic
      January 16, 2012 at

      I can’t watch Moneyball without thinking of Tyler filling that role of Assistant GM. The Oil Change show looks an awful lot like the first scouting meeting in that movie.

      • godot10
        January 16, 2012 at

        Yeah, but then Paul Depodesta, the guy fictionalized and played by Jonah Hill in the movie, was a disaster as GM in Los Angeles, and has continued part of the ongoing disaster that is the Mets.

        • Mike W
          January 16, 2012 at

          You’re right, stats are bad and Tambellini is doing a bang up job. Nothing to see here, folks.

        • Matt
          January 17, 2012 at

          Yeah Paul DePodesta wasn’t exactly a disaster as Los Angeles Dodgers GM

          http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-best-out-of-work-gm-in-baseball/

          he was crucified by a bunch of dinosaur media people, but the complaints didn’t really match the reality of what was going on.

          I only come to his defense because I’m a Padres fan and he did nothing but good things while he was there :)

        • Chewy59
          January 17, 2012 at

          I hate the Mets but DePodesta has nothing to do with the Mets disaster. Neither does Sandy Alderson. The fact that the franchise is on the verge of bankruptcy due to bad ownership, is losing 70 million a year and was stuck under horrible contracts remaining from the Omar Minaya era has everything to do with it.

          DePodesta and Alderson are just trying to salvage the Mets from that.

    17. FastOil
      January 17, 2012 at

      I have been very curious as to whether the Oilers have recognized stats, fearfull, no actually pissed off that they likely weren’t getting it. I was visiting a friend over Christmas who is not into sports at all, and he mentioned something to me completely by chance.

      My friend told me he had a guy over for dinner a few weeks back. He then casually mentions the fellow works for a company that does statistical analysis for the Oilers. I almost spit my beer out. He didn’t want to talk much about it I think respecting confidentiality, I didn’t push him, but I was quite excited by that. A little later buddy says that the stats guy said they also look at sleep related issues (like the Canucks), nutrition, etc.. And of course, this being the Oilers, stats guy also says he isn’t sure if they actually care that much about or use the info they pay to collect. Back to reality.

      I instinctively don’t trust Tambellini’s ability, but am convinced they are following their stated plan to acquire talent through the draft, which means suck. When your two best players have trouble playing half a year failure isn’t that tricky to arrange I think, even with surprises like Smyth forcing his way back and playing well. Belanger has been a nice offset to Smyth. I don’t think they’re done with that plan either quite yet. Until they actually try to push forward it’s really hard to know if Tambellini (or whoever is puppet master) has what it takes to make beneficial deals. Waiting for the axe to fall isn’t pleasing me.

    18. Hawerchuk
      January 21, 2012 at

      Sort of on-topic. Sunny M and I went to a Sharks game last year. I grabbed a couple of stats sheets as we walked in. Sunny said “Why do you want that shit? It’s just goals, assists and penalty minutes.” I said “But we want to have the same stats that the teams use to evaluate their players.”

      Didn’t really suspect that was true.

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