People elsewhere have written about the merits of Mike Brown as a hockey player, so I won’t get both with that. Brief summary: he’s not very good but he likes to smack people and some people think that the Oilers need more guys who like to smack people.
A point about that: the local media has long derided the Oilers as soft, abusing the NHL’s hits data to support their claims. I know of nothing to suggest that there’s any merit to the idea that there’s a relationship between hitting and winning but leave that aside for a second and assume that there is.
It’s generally understood that the more subjective a statistic is, the less consistent NHL scorers are from building to building. So things like goals, they tend to get exactly right. Shots are reasonably consistent, although there are screwed up areas – the New Jersey counter is pretty sniffy, rejecting efforts that would be counted as a shot in other arenas.
The subjectivity of these stats means that, if you’re going to delve into the tainted statistical waters of hits, you’re better off sticking to the road data, which gives you a mix of the scorers who credit a hit when someone looks at someone and the scorers who only give one out when a head is physically separated from a body and bounces down the ice. For example, Toronto was credited with 1279 home hits last year, best in the league. Calgary was worst in the league in home hits at 672. On the road, Toronto was credited with 939, Calgary with 931. You can’t take hit counts that include the home data seriously because of the wide variance in hit standards.
Since 2005-06, the Oilers have finished 17, 19, 28, 23, 24, 16 and 15 in road hits. Currently they’re 14th. So the 17th place team in hits went to the Stanley Cup Finals (after getting softer at the deadline), the 2007-08 team which got 88 points finished 28th in road points and the 2008-09 team, the other sort of non-crap Oilers team finished 23rd in hits.
LA (4) NJ (9)
BOS (21) VAN (15)
PHI (6) CHI (29)
PIT (8) DET (29)
PIT (24) DET (26)
ANA (1) OTT (8)
EDM (17) CAR (13)
So, just categorizing it a bit:
Take from that what you will as far as the necessity of hitting and whether the Oilers, as currently constructed, hit enough to win a Stanley Cup. I would suggest that they do and the reason that we aren’t all taunting our acquaintances who support other teams about the shower of Stanley Cups in the Oilers’ immediate future is because of all of the other non-hitting deficiencies in the team. There are many.
That aside, I’m not really opposed to the idea of having bottom six forwards who can smack guys. I would just prefer that they not be terrible hockey players. These people do exist – Raffi Torres has had great possession numbers the last five years for a guy in a bottom six role and is 207th amongst NHL F in G/GM in that time, spending a lot of it as a fourth liner. He cost the Coyotes $1.75MM a year on a two year deal. Ben Eager is 365th with about half that production and Brown is 452nd with about half of that.
One of many odd things about the Oilers is their inability to fix this issue – useful bottom six hockey players who hit – over an extended period. They’ve tried signing outright goons to long term deals in Derek Boogaard. They’ve signed guys like Zack Stortini to a long term deal and then paid them to finish it out in the AHL.
What’s particularly odd (and aggravating) about this move is that it comes at the cost of a 3rd or 4th round pick. They’re presumably spending this pick to fix a mistake from last summer – they thought that they had enough toughness in their bottom six with Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager and then 20 games into the season, Hordichuk is in OKC with no sign of a recall and Eager apparently isn’t sufficient.
Now 3rd or 4th round picks are lottery tickets but they’re lottery tickets with a decent prize. Looking at the five years between 2000 and 2004, Kurt Sauer, Mike Rupp, Dominic Moore, Lubomir Visnovsky, Niclas Wallin, Tomas Plekanec, Patrick Sharp, Christian Ehrhoff, Jordin Tootoo, Gregory Campbell, Valtterri Filppula, Tom Gilbert, Clarke MacArthur, Jan Hejda, Tyler Kennedy, Ryan Callahan, Alex Edler and Johan Franzen, amongst others, all came out of the third and fourth rounds. It’s a lottery ticket but the prize is decent, particularly if you’re the sort of team that expects that your top six forwards might cost a lot of money. It’s a helpful source of cheap talent.
Giving away a pick for the sort of player who is available for nothing but money in the off-season because you screwed up your assessment of your team is aggravating as a fan of that team. It’s all the more aggravating when the deficiency that’s being corrected (a lack of toughness) is one that’s debatable at best, both in terms of its existence and in term of it mattering. This will be particularly true if, five years from now, Brown is gone and the Leafs have some contributor in the lineup who the Oilers could make use of.
One other point about this: has anyone else noticed that Steve Tambellini has a tendency to do a sales job when he trades for a player? Like, he says stuff that it’s hard to believe that he actually thinks. He mentioned Brown’s ability to kill penalties yesterday and, while that’s literally true, in the sense that Brown can skate on to the ice while his team is shorthanded and be there during play, the numbers that he posted were horrific last year.
Last year he was eighth amongst Leafs F in TOI/G at 4v5. His Corsi was -118/60 minutes, the worst figure in the NHL for anyone who played at least 50 games and 30 seconds a night on the PK. In fairness to him, he’s had much better numbers before that but, given that he doesn’t take draws, you sort of wonder what the point of him as a penalty killer is in a place like Edmonton. Is he a marked improvement over guys like Lennart Petrell, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones and MPS, such that he warrants the price of a draft pick? Hard to imagine that’s true.
Last point: the numbers say that Edmonton’s due for some regression of the good kind and Toronto for some of the bad kind. Nobody should be praying to the hockey gods for this to occur right about now more than Mike Brown, for whom such an event would likely be worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. As an Oiler fan who suspects he’s not a particularly useful hockey player, this is not a comfortable position.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org