Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Quick Hits: What Jim Benning Said

The Canucks' Twitter account tweeted a thing earlier tonight. This was the thing they tweeted:
This prompted @BlueAidanGreen to ask me this question, seeing as I'm usually pretty volatile towards nonsense like this:
I was ready to fire back the usual #fakeoutrage, fire-and-brimstone, those-idiots-don't-know-what-they're-doing type of response, but then I stopped to think. I don't know why, I'm usually bad at not running my mouth on these types of things, but something struck me about the nature of the Canucks' tweet and the purpose of their Twitter account itself, and I think it's worth saying that we probably kinda need to take a step back here and not read too much into what Jim Benning said.

The Vancouver Canucks don't have a Twitter account just because they want to talk hockey with fans. To them, it's strictly a marketing tool. It's purpose is not to provide news or analysis, it is first and foremost a way to "engage the consumer base" and "grow the brand" with a strong "social media presence." Sports Twitter despises Darren Rovell for being a soulless husk of a human being who bows down in worship of The Brand, but he's not exactly an inaccurate representation of what a professional sports marketing department probably thinks and talks like. Their job is to turn fan interest into actual dollars spent, and that only happens when fans make an emotional investment on some level. Participating in the discussion and engaging them on the social media medium that they like to talk hockey on is an easy way to do this.

This brings me to the actual content of what the Canucks' account tweets. You can be assured that Derek Jory or whoever is taking their turn behind the keyboard is under strict guidelines from the marketing department about what they share with their five-hundred and twenty-three thousand followers. Everything that's tweeted or distributed is carefully planned and designed as a part of a larger, overarching strategy to create a solid and trustworthy brand image - to make sure that the guys in charge look like they know what they're doing. If fans trust the Canucks, fans are more likely to spend money on the Canucks.

So when Jim Benning says something that's quoted by Twitter, you can bet it's been pre-screened and approved first. And even before that, he's almost assuredly met with some of the marketing guys to prep him for interviews and the like. As such, I don't think we can put a lot of stock into Benning saying he's looking for "character" in prospects, especially since "character" is such a nebulous thing.

We also have to remember that the vast majority of the Canucks' paying customers still revere the gritty heart leadershippyness of the 1994 team. "Character" means something to them. The broader fanbase wants character players - seemingly good guys who they can get behind and buy jerseys and merchandise to support - because that's what the broader fanbase thinks wins Stanley Cups. We have to remember that we as an analytic-focused community are still very much a niche in their market. We may very well have it right, but it's not in Vancouver's best interest to tip their hand in our favour since that's not what their paying fans want to hear. If they want Trevor to save the day again, then god dammit they'll make it look like they're hunting for Trevor 2.0, even if they really aren't.

Furthermore, no matter who Vancouver drafts, it's easy to say "we like this kid's character." The beauty of publicly valuing intangibles is that they can't be falsified on a player-by-player basis. We can't know if a guy has good character because, as fans, we have no inside knowledge. Jim Benning may very well draft Michael Dal Colle 6th overall, and Michael Dal Colle may very well be a total asshole. Will we be told about that? Of course not. Benning will lie if he has to. Bad character is bad for the brand.

And there you have it. A whole bunch of words to basically say the same thing as what you were taught in gradeschool: don't believe everything you see on T.V. read on the internet.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Quick Hits: On Trades and Finding Talent

So I was talking Kesler trade with Thomas Drance today. He brought up a point that I don't totally agree with:
You do need a lot of good players to build a serious contender, and Vancouver doesn't have enough good players. Therefore, Vancouver needs more good players. It's a pretty simple formula. The trick, of course, is getting enough good players.

As this relates to Ryan Kesler, I'd rather move him for fewer, high-quality parts than a greater volume of lower-quality ones. For example, I'd take Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim over Emerson Etem and the 10th overall pick. Whether or not Anaheim would go for this is another matter entirely, but Lindholm + any additional BS throw-ins you can negotiate would be my preferred ask from Jim Benning's point of view.

The problem here is Vancouver still needs player volume to fill out a deep roster and build a contender, and trading your big ticket item for one guy doesn't help you with depth. It's likely a lateral move in terms of quality (hopefully), and roster spots filled. So at the end of the day, you're left essentially where you started, except you've moved towards the right side of the window of contention being open again. So if you're making a lateral move by trading for quality, why not address an immediate need and get a bunch of guys?

The answers are "scarcity" and "replacement cost" of top-end players relative to good depth guys, but instead of providing a lecture on economic theory and what the hell these mean, I'll go through the moves Dean Lombardi made to build a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Los Angeles, since I think the L.A. "model" is a good illustration in how to build a deep, effective, and sustainably successful NHL team. Lombardi took over the Kings in April of 2006. Here's how he acquired his forward group:

Anze Kopitar: Inherited from previous regime.
Justin Williams: Inherited Pavol Demitra. Traded Demitra to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O'Sullivan and a 1st round pick in 2006 (Trevor Lewis). Dealt O'Sullivan and a 2nd round pick to Carolina for Justin Williams.
Marian Gaborik: Drafted Jonathan Bernier in the 1st round of 2006. Traded Bernier to Toronto for Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and a 2nd round pick. Traded Ben Scrivens to Edmonton for a 3rd round pick. Traded Matt Frattin, a 2nd round pick, and a conditional 2nd/3rd round pick to Columbus for Marian Gaborik.
Jeff Carter: Inherited Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason. Traded Belanger and Gleason to Carolina in exchange for Jack Johnson and Oleg Tverdovsky. Traded Jack Johnson and a 1st round pick to Columbus for Jeff Carter.
Tyler Toffoli: Traded 2nd round pick and 4th round pick in 2010 to Colorado in exchange for 2nd round pick in 2010 (Tyler Toffoli).
Mike Richards: Inherited Brent Sopel. Traded Sopel to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2nd round pick in 2007 (Wayne Simmonds) and a 4th round pick in 2008. Drafted Brayden Schenn in the 1st round of 2009. Traded Simmonds, Schenn, and a 2nd round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards.
Dustin Brown: Inherited from previous regime.
Jarrett Stoll: Inherited Lubomir Visnovsky. Traded Visnovsky to the Edmonton Oilers for Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene.
Tanner Pearson: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 draft.
Kyle Clifford: Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft.
Dwight King: Inherited Craig Conroy. Traded Conroy to the Calgary Flames for Jamie Lundmark, a 2nd round pick in 2008, and a 4th round pick in 2007 (Dwight King).
Jordan Nolan: Drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 draft.

As for Los Angeles' D, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez were all drafted by the Kings, while Willie Mitchell and Jake Muzzin were UFA signings (Muzzin was drafted but never signed by Pittsburgh, so he became a free agent). Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene were both acquired via trade.

At the end of the day, we appear to be left with this formula:

  • Build the bare-bones skeleton of your team through the early picks of the draft (Kopitar, Doughty)
  • Trade multiple assets to acquire premium quality depth (Williams, Carter, Gaborik, Richards) 
  • Fill in the bottom-end holes in your roster from within by developing your own talent
  • Stay away from unrestricted free agency, except for unsigned prospects
Not since 2007 has Dean Lombardi traded down to stock the cupboards with quantity of players in lieu of quality. In fact, Lombardi has done the opposite most of the time by packaging up players and picks to take a home-run swing on the trade market. As a smart GM, he realizes that top-end talent, like Jeff Carter and Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik, is harder to come by than bundles of assets involving lesser players and draft picks. Hell, NHL teams are given seven free draft picks every year, but you have to work hard to find a Jeff Carter.

Of course, Lombardi's wheeling and dealing wouldn't be possible without a strong scouting department that's been among the league's best since he took over. If his scouts had not found Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, or Jonathan Bernier, it's unlikely he has enough assets to build a team as strong as the Kings are. And as an added bonus, his amateur scouting department has also landed the Kings Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan in recent years to fill out the roster and ultimately save money on pricier veteran UFA replacements. Amateur scouting really matters.

Coming full circle to Vancouver, yes the Canucks absolutely need to "re-stock" the cupboard. But, as the Kings have shown, there are other ways to find quantity of talent than trading your best trade chip for a bunch of assets that can be found through other processes. Land the single best asset you can for Ryan Kesler. Focus on the other stuff later.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Adjusted Draft Year Scoring For CHL Prospects

After adjusting scoring for age and era, it's clear that no CHLer has ever been as prolific as Sidney Crosby.
Here is a table showing the age and era adjusted scoring for every CHL forward drafted in the 1st round of the NHL entry draft since 2003, as well as some 2014 draft eligibles (highlighted with red text). My method for adjusting draft year scoring for age can be found here, and my method for adjusting scoring rate for era and CHL league was described in this post. All of total points per game, just age adjusted points per game, just era adjusted points per game, and a combined age and era adjusted points per game are included:

* = Draft year was unavailable due to injury, so draft-1 year was used instead. The age adjustment likely understates how well these players performed as 16-year olds in the CHL.
** = Drafted as a draft+1 player, so draft year scoring was used.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Adjusting Scoring Rate for Age in CHL Prospects

Nathan MacKinnon, one of the youngest 1st round picks since 2003.
I wrote a post for Canucks Army this morning (read it here and click on all their advertising) in which I argued that Vancouver could expect to win a trade for the 1st overall draft choice this season - even if they gave up their 6th overall pick and Bo Horvat to do it - if they used the draft pick to select Kootenay's Sam Reinhart. The genesis of the pro-Reinhart argument is that Reinhart scored at a level comparable to other extremely highly-touted former prospects (and current NHL stars), therefore he was player worthy of being selected 1st overall, despite the skepticism among experts that this draft contains a "true #1 selection."

After publishing the article, it was pointed out to me that Reinhart is older than the average draft eligible prospect, and therefore his offensive numbers could not be fairly compared to a player like Sam Bennett, who is 8 months younger. The argument here is essentially that scoring rate increases with player age, and for the most part, this probably isn't an unreasonable generalization to make. 20 year olds score more than 19 year olds, who score more than 18 year olds, and so on and so forth. If this pattern exists on a macro scale, then it should logically exist on a micro scale, too. A kid who's 17.8 years old on in September should, in theory, score more than a kid who's 17.2 years old at the same point in time.

If this assumption is true, then we should be able to observe a consistent positive relationship between intra-year age and scoring rate. Fortunately, Josh Weissbock had previously scraped a whole bunch of data for a project we've currently postponed (we're instead working on Sham Sharron 2: Return of the Sham), so I had a repository of scoring and age data for every player to play in the OHL since 1990. Eliminating small sample size guys and correlating intra-year age with scoring rate, I was left with the following equation:

Pts/GP = (0.1672*Age) - 2.3714

This equation tells us that for every year a player ages, we can expect scoring rate to increase by 0.1672 points per game. This means that, for first time draft eligible players, we can adjust scoring rate for age through the following equation:

Age Adjusted Pts/GP = (1 - ([Age as of September of draft year - 17] * 0.1672)) * Pts/GP

This formula will estimate the predicted scoring rate of a player if they were exactly 17 years of age at the start of their draft year, based on their actual age and scoring rate. It is, for all intents and purposes, a measure of scoring relative to Nathan MacKinnon, who was almost exactly 17 years of age at the start of his draft year.

To see how it works, we'll use John Tavares as an example. Tavares was roughly 17.94 years old at the start of his draft year, and he scored 104 points in 56 games, split between Oshawa and London. His age-adjusted points per game is as follows:

Tavares Adj. Pts/GP = (1 - ([Age as of September of draft year - 17] * 0.1672)) * Pts/GP
= (1 - ([17.94 - 17] * 0.1672)) * (104/56)
= (1 - ([0.94] * 0.1672)) * 1.857
= (1 - 0.157) * 1.857
= 0.843 * 1.857
Tavares Adj. Pts/GP = 1.565 Pts/GP

Whereas if you attempt the same formula with Nathan MacKinnon:

MacKinnon Adj. Pts/GP = (1 - ([Age as of September of draft year - 17] * 0.1672)) * Pts/GP
= (1 - ([17.00 - 17] * 0.1672)) * (75/44)
= (1 - ([0.0] * 0.1672)) * 1.705
= (1 - 0.0) * 1.705
= 1 * 1.705
MacKinnon Adj. Pts/GP 1.705 Pts/GP

As you can probably see, the closer a player is to 17 years old at the beginning of their draft year, the smaller the adjustment to their scoring rate. As a side note, I don't know if this age adjustment works for any other age ranges than 17.0 years to 17.99 years old, as I basically just built it to look at first-time draft eligible players. I'll have to look into this later.

So there you have it, a formula to adjust scoring for intra-year age for first-time draft eligible CHL prospects. I don't know if anyone had done this publicly (if they have, I couldn't find it), but I hope this provides some useful insight going forward. 


As an aside, here are some top 2014-eligible prospects ranked by age adjusted Pts/GP:

Good news for Sam Bennett fans, however Reinhart still comes out on top when adjusting for league offense. Really though, both guys stack up well with some pretty elite company (and so does Nikolaj Ehlers, their closest comparables are here, here and here) and a team selecting 1st overall probably can't go wrong with either.