Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Changed Tune

For some reason or reasons that I hope were more nuanced than general jadedness, contrarianism, and curmudgeonry, I was previously not all that excited about the ongoing HBO 24/7 series following the Caps and Pens, despite it featuring my current favorite team and my former favorite/current most detested team, respectively. Well, tonight after watching episode two of four, I will admit: this series is unbearably entertaining. Maybe it was getting to see real hockey players after playing in my own men's league game (0 goals, 2 assists, +2, 3 shots, general tentative and mediocre play in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss in a "must win" game that all but skunked our playoff hopes), or the aid of some late night beers (Stone IPA, 6.3%) and whiskeys (Makers, rocks), but I was more or less paradisiacally enthralled watching the episode.

Quick thoughts:
  • Bruce Boudreau is a dummy. Good guy, experienced hockey guy, friendly guy, great junior player, not a self-serving, real politicking actor, etc. All of that notwithstanding, he's hopelessly inarticulate and just not very intelligent, and it comes through almost every time he opens his mouth, whether talking to the camera, the players, or the GM. I don't think those are traits that necessarily preclude someone from being a good hockey coach, but they probably don't help. Luckily he did not appear with his face slathered in BBQ sauce this time.
  • I have completely turned around on Crosby this year. He's been so damn good and effective on the ice that even I can no longer disclaim or discount him as a player. But, shockingly, his personality has shown through in this series as well. His recounting of how he and Malkin determined who would be the last one in the line-up of players walking from locker room to the ice - Crosby had always been last on ice his whole career, ditto for Malkin, when Malkin arrived Crosby was like, "uh, how should we settle this, rock, paper, scissors?" And Malkin told him, with Crosby pulling off a perfectly fine Russian accent, that he'd played three years in the RSL, compared to Crosby's one in the NHL - was so interesting and endearing, to both players, and I found it so, for lack of a better word, neat that Crosby, who had already accomplished so much at that point and who was the recognized golden boy of the NHL, not to mention the type of fairly strict superstionist to whom I imagine a routine like that means something, would defer there and laugh at the silliness of it, well, maybe I'm an idiot, but after 5 years of actively and bitterly rooting against him, I think I can finally stop doing that. Which is probably just a means of self-preservation because rooting against him appears to be a losing proposition.
  • Matt Hendricks, with black eye, blood swollen pupil, and stitches, kinda reminded me of Skeletor a bit. I knew nothing about Hendricks going into this season - there are a handful of NHL players that I could say that about - but he's been a delightful surprise. Very versatile and useful player, and based on this show, he seems like a decent and fun guy. Why there's a shot of Hendricks with his foot rapped in a bag filled with blood I cannot even imagine.
  • Caps celebrating their one win to break the losing streak as if winning the Stanely Cup was a bit lame, though I guess I understand it. That team is going to go insane if they ever actually win anything.
  • I thought it was kind of interesting that the Caps trainer appeared to be a bit dismissive with Ovechkin after OV complained of hamstring soreness. For all of my complaints about OV this year (he's looked awful and I think it has to do with a lack of Crosby-like commitment off the ice), I certainly do not get the feeling that he's a very high maintenance player. So when the franchise player, who has been struggling and who plays a ton of minutes, complains of a physical problem, I'd expect the trainer to be excessively diligent and thorough and cautious and using everything but leaches to fix him up. Instead, the trainer told him that you don't use your hamstrings when you skate (which struck me as odd but I guess is true) and suggested that the hamstring was sore from OV squatting the prior day. When OV asked why it was just on one side, the trainer basically just said, "maybe you favor one side. Do you favor one side? ... Just go get a message." The whole thing was weird.

It's a fascinating show and it's intensified my longing to be on more of a real and competitive hockey team. If anyone knows of any strange community where they value some combination of receiving low quality legal advice and watching even lower quality hockey, please advise.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Crime" and "Punishment" [FN1]

Semi-frequent commentator, political savant, and all around good guy Mark B., wait that's too obvious, let's call him M. Bell, has taken issue with IOZ's latest excoriation of Matt Yglesias, this time for Yglesias' statement that "[s]omewhat punitive post-arrest pre-trial measures are a kind of necessary evil, but the prolonged confinement of Manning under cruel conditions go beyond the necessary into straightforward evil." IOZ doesn't bother wading into the muck of the idea that "punitive [FN2] pre-trial," let alone pre-conviction, measures are a "kind of necessary evil," and notes simply that "[i]t is never necessary to do evil. It is always a choice." Yglesias either completely misunderstands a basic tenet of our criminal jurisprudence - specifically, that any pre-conviction limitations on the rights of the accused are not properly understood as "punishment" for misconduct, for by definition there has not been any misconduct so identified and adjudicated as such just yet, but rather they're more appropriately considered as a function of the criminal justice process [FN3] - or he is advocating for some kind of Panopticonally illiberal regime where things like evidence and trials and juries are not needed to punish people for crimes.

Regardless, Mark's and other commentators' point seems to be that "Yglesias is just arguing that Manning should receive the same kind of pre-trial detention that awaits other people facing charges." The position, it seems, is essentially that Manning shouldn't receive different treatment just because we may or may not support the particular potentially criminal act. I agree with this. In fact, I can't imagine anyone not agreeing with this.

IOZ clarifies his position a bit in a subsequent post:
The question "what is to be done with Private Manning," posed to me as if it presents an imponderable moral and practical conundrum that I have never considered, is irrelevant. It is, to use a phrase one of my regular commenter-critics recently reminded me of while criticizing me in comments, not even wrong. I do not care about the state's dilemma in dealing with Private Manning. I don't care about the state's dilemmas at all. The state will dispose of Private Manning as it sees fit. My interest is in the attitudes people take toward that state. Those who begin with the question of what the government should do with its enemies, even if their conclusion is some banal exhortation somehow to treat them humanely and fairly as it helps itself to their lives, are on the wrong side.
I don't think he explains himself or the idea very well, but the point is an important one. First, though it may be banal, the idea of bringing to justice those who commit criminal acts in a fair and humane way and only after the customary evaluation of evidence is rare enough to escape attention of many, our own Government as repeat, prime offender [FN4], and so is worth emphasis. Second, I think IOZ is making a different point, though. He's saying that because, perhaps generally but certainly specifically in this case, the State is illegitimate, because the State is driven by the narrow interests of unaccountable, private tyrannies (corporations) who endeavor to increase their own power and those of the State, because, as John Dewey put it, the State is "the shadow cast by business over society," because the State ultimately does what it wants, we the public should be less concerned with how the State chooses to punish the people who have brought to light its machinations and motivations and more concerned with the machinations and motivations themselves. Does the State have a right to prosecute those who have violated the terms of a confidentiality agreement it has entered into with? Absolutely. Does the State routinely violate international law and do a whole host of terrible things? Yes. While focus on these separate issues is not mutually exclusive, I am certainly more interested in one of these phenomena than the other.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are heroes who have shed light on a variety of State abuses and its fundamental role, function, and modus operandi. You can be sure that the State will punish them, brutally and accordingly.

FN1 - Alternate title - The Empire Strikes Back

FN2 - I won't even bother including reference to the totally useless and fairly comical modifier "somewhat" here. Light treason, anyone?

FN3 - This is all sort of related to the basic idea of "innocent before proven guilty."

FN4 - For example, the US made no real attempt to bring to justice the perpetrators behind the 9/11 attacks. Rather, their response was to bomb the fuck out of Afghanistan knowing it would kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians directly and create a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions that would kill many more. Conversely, after being the victim of CIA funded and sponsored attacks, Nicaragua did not set off bombs in Washington but rather appealed to the World Court for determination that the US was committing acts of terrorism, should stop such acts, and pay reparations for such acts. Of course, the US simply ignored the Court's order and intensified the violence.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

If George McPhee Isn't Looking Up Craig MacTavish's Number Right Now, He's Probably Breaching a Fiduciary Duty or Two

I was at this game and the highlights don't do justice as to how atrocious it was.

And re this incident from the previous night:

Don't ever do it again. It was a selfish penalty. Liles hit him a couple of times but this is hockey not Tiddlywinks. You've got to suck that up and can't do what he did. I think at that point in time we had 8-0 in shots on goal, we had everything going our way and then you've got to kill a penalty for five minutes.
- Boudreau

Kind of odd that a coach in the midst of a 5-game (soon to become 6) game losing streak, despite the most complete - in terms of both experience (age and youth) and functionality (scorers and grinders) - and stacked - in terms of elite offensive level talent (OV, Semin, Backs, Green) - NHL roster would call out and vilify the team's most consistently productive player, a player who leads them, by a far margin, in EV and PP scoring efficiency, and who plays an important and effective role on the PK as well, for basically defending himself, after a career in which it's become painfully clear that NHL refs have no interest in doing so. What a joke. And the team responded as they should: with no desire in saving the job of a hokey, "golly, gee" faux-charismatic bench boss who's better suited to leading the Wheeling Nailers to the Kelly Cup than matching wits against the Babcocks and Vigneaults of this world. I used to be of the opinion that common sense and decency mandated that he be given this year to go at least as far as 3 rounds before being axed, but I don't think GMGM has any choice but to start spinning the rolodex (scrolling through the BBM list) to see who else knows enough about the Caps (and not the silly MSM narrative - high octane offensive w/o the defense or goaltending or grit) to start ASAP. It's going to take some time to undo all the coddling OV's received and all the bad habits - both on the ice and off - he's picked up. And the new guy has to know enough to play 8-19-28 together for an extended period.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who'd You Rather?

These two players are on the same team and these are their stats through the first 28 games of the season. Player A scores at a higher rate at even strength (getting less ice time, 13.4 vs. 16 min/60) and on the PP (getting much less ice time, 3.1 to 4.7 min/60). Player A makes up some of that time playing shorthanded (he is fifth in ice time for forwards on a team that is in the top-10 in penalty killing) whereas Player B does not play shorthanded. There is a higher discrepancy in shots directed at the opposition's net vs. their team's net (CORSI) when Player A is on the ice rather than Player B. Player A gets twice as many takeaways (tied for the league lead) and fewer giveaways. Player B gets more shots and about 10 times as many hits (although it's pretty clear that hits have very little if any utility in a hockey game).

Are there any compelling arguments that Player A, this season, isn't a more effective player than Player B? Any guesses who the players are?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Half Season Update

NYU-HJD (so named because when the team was first formed it was made up of mostly orthopedic surgeons at the Hospital of Joint Diseases, from whom we also received some funding; of course the docs and dollars are all gone yet the name remains, indicating the mixture of loyalty, laziness, and lack of creativity that has plagued the team on and off the ice since its inception) has reached the midpoint of another season. A ragtag group of lovable losers, never weres dramatically outnumbering has beens, the current incarnation is probably my favorite HJD composition in the 6 years(!) it's been active at Chelsea Piers. "Favorite" being more an evaluation of team personality than team success, as our 3-5 record doesn't do justice to a league worst goal differential that is -3 red lights per game (there is no red light, obviously). Our division houses a very mixed bag of players who basically can't skate, some who grew up playing competitively and are actually good, and everything in between. Goal differential aside, I think our team has the ability to do some damage in the playoffs. If we get some puck luck. And if we make the playoffs first.

As a devoted empiricist and avowed chronicler of the human condition (particularly mine), I try to diligently and accurately record my box car stats every season. It helps set goals and facilitates sober evaluative reflection and blah blah blah, I'm a sad, pathetic person looking for a reason to stay alive... here we go with my season thus far:

Few notes: 1) This division's teams' names are atrocious and speak volumes about the quality of hockey. 2) My realistic goal for the season was to get 1.5 PPG, and my ideal if-everything-breaks-right goal was 2.0 PPG. I'm currently at 1.57, so I'm not too displeased (though my shooting% is 24 which is a tad above my historical rate of 16-20% so I can expect a little regression there... fuck sabermetrics). 3) The DNP was due to my wedding and I think the goose eggs around it can be reasonably attributed to wedding-anxiety and -exhaustion, respectively (I feel like I'm going to be blaming a lot of things on that wedding over the next 50 years), so I'm cautiously expecting a bigger 2nd half performance (individually, the team will continue to be terrible, I imagine). 4) I am the kind of player that has to be top-6 or I'm basically useless. With a Bob Kudelski-type release, I'm decent with the puck but awful without it; I have no idea what I'm doing in my own end; and I'm one of those players that, when the puck is tied up along the wall, I'm firmly on the wrong side of it, waiting, hovering, hoping it randomly squirts out to me. Think Phil Kessel meets Alexander Selivanov. That said, I've scored or assisted on a Lemieux-esque 58% of my team's goals (in the games I've played). Speaking of Super Mario:

I think the numbers are pretty clear, but I'll spell it out for you just in case: I will go down as the greatest D5 hockey player in Chelsea Piers history. And then I will own one of the teams and get a local government to subsidize my private money-making arena and grow a beard that looks ridiculous and no one will ever criticize me for anything. There it is.

Also, this Norwegian kid is ridiculously sweet and he would be the best player on our team. And he's ten years old. Sick.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Wretched of the Earth, Indeed

The UN's annual A-to-Z of global wealth, poverty, health and education highlighted in its 20th anniversary edition that despite "growth surges" in the Asia-Pacific region, it is becoming ever more difficult to break into the rich club of nations.

Oil-rich Norway -- with its 81.0 years of life expectancy, average annual income of 58,810 dollars and 12.6 years of schooling -- has now topped the Human Development Index (HDI) for all but two years since 2001.

Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Ireland took the following places in the top five. Zimbabwe came bottom of the 169 nations ranked, behind Mozambique, Burundi, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zimbabwe, where in stark contrast life expectancy is just 47 years and per capita income 176 dollars, has come bottom of the table for the past five years.

DR Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe have seen their HDI value fall below 1970 levels in the four decades since, said the study.

"These countries offer lessons on the devastating impact of conflict, the AIDS epidemic and economic and political mismanagement," said UNDP administrator Helen Clarke, the former New Zealand prime minister.

Now, I understand that Ms. Clarke is referring to the reasons why those countries' HDI levels have fallen since 1970 and is not really commenting on how they got there in the first place, but isn't the more trenchant lesson on the devastating impact of being colonized by a European nation? I wonder what the HDI level would be for an aggregate of all peoples living in North American Native reservations?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lesser of Evils Still Pandora-Level of Evil

A bunch of good folks I sincerely like and respect will take part in the farcical, biennial public relations competition that masquerades as representative democracy in this country. Most of the people I happen to know will vote for candidates of the Democratic Party. I think they are making a big mistake. If these people, like me, believe in things like that the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and its bombings and/or targeted assassinations - either way, war crimes - in Pakistan and Yemen are illegal and, more importantly, immoral; that the public should not subsidize business costs while corporations privatize profit; that the short-term interests of corporate shareholders in the US should not be placed above the long term interests of the larger community, especially with respect to climate change and the survival of the species; and that the "international community" is more than just Washington and whoever happens to agree with it, see, e.g., Iran's enriching of uranium and Israel's occupation of Palestine, etc. etc.; then they are voting for a party that holds fundamentally inconsistent views and goals. I don't understand the desire to do such a thing. Perhaps it's a desire to not feel small and inconsequential in the world, to not feel like you've been lied to your whole life, or worse, that you believed the lie. Maybe it's the desperate grab of the lever that retains some symbolic meaning in the face of increasing atomization and alienation, a silent cry that whispers, "things are not that bad, we're just a ways off from justice and egality, this act absolves me while at the same time keeping me safe from the consequences of real action." I don't know what the reasons are at this point, and I don't really care. I do know that there is one business party in the US, with two factions that are more different in personality than substance, and that this business party is fanatically committed to a highly sophisticated class war at home and a brutally violent imperial empire abroad (where corporations have replaced viceroys). And I think that the sooner the educated, white, liberal professional class that is my peer group comes to realize this, the sooner the cannibalization of the Democratic Party can occur and a new, legitimate opposition movement will foment. The only time I'm voting soon is for Palin/Beck 2014.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shomer Shabbos

We were looking for shooters on the point. I guess the shooters we have are all up front. That's the reason why we use two forwards. We have to get shots at the net. That's the reason [I'm playing Kovalchuk on the point on the power play].

Even 5-on-5 I use [Kovalchuk] on the point. It was 5-3 at that time [with the Devils trailing]. I feel that he has a good shot and he can score from the blue line. So that’s why, when we were in their zone, I used him on the point there on defense. I don’t care [how well he skates backwards]. I just want him to go forwards, not backwards.
- Jacques Lemaire
[Kovalchuk] has been anything and everything that we have asked of him. He’s been a solid citizen. He’s bought into the program. He’s given the effort. So, there is no question that we would like him to be a Devil.

- Lou Lamoriello
Q. Why did you choose to move Kovalchuk to the right side and not Parise?
No great thinking there. Zach is a left shot and Kovy is a right shot. They're both very adaptable, great players and we'll see what the chemistry is.

Q. So, you'd rather both of those guys playing their on wing rather than the off side?

Yeah, we're trying it. In fairness, you could go the other way. Zach has never played right wing before either. But I just thought with the right-hand shot, we'd try (Kovalchuk) over there.

- John MacLean

Shit, man. What a lemon! I don't know, man. One minute it's running like a top... and the next minute it's broken down on the side of the road. I can't fix a car like this. I don't have the tools to do it, man! Even if I did, I can't promise you I'd know how to fix a car like that!

- Dignan
If you didn't know the first thing about hockey and I told you that of the four speakers above, one is a Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup winning coach credited with tactically revolutionizing the game in the mid-90's, another is one of the most respected General Managers in the NHL known for running a highly obedient and structured organization, another is a cockeyed optimist from a small town with big dreams and little sense, and the other is a first-year NHL head coach who is probably about to get fired, I think you could probably correctly identify who's who.

Kovalchuk was scratched from a game last week for reportedly arriving 10 minutes late to a team meeting that morning. While I don't think it's indefensible for a coach to scratch a star player for being late to a meeting, I do wonder if it's a bit of a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face when your team is off to a terrible start and you're sitting your leading point scorer against an important conference rival whom you could very well be battling for a playoff spot against. The benching was a pretty desperate plea to get control of the room and command respect from players with high expectations. Kovalchuk was the perfect target because he's the biggest name, there's already a perception that he won't fit in with the team first mentality, and as a player known as someone who wants to be liked and to fit in, was a safe bet to accept it without creating an even bigger controversy. I think it was a bad decision but not a terrible one.

Opening the season with Kovalchuk on right wing, however, was more than a terrible decision. (Though, to be fair, decision implies some kind of thought process, which, evidently, MacLean lacked - see above). The problem, I guess, was that three of the Devils' most offensively gifted players all play left wing, and MacLean would ideally want those players to be sprinkled on two different offensively loaded lines. Fine, so someone has to play out of position. Should it be Kovalchuk, a player who has played exclusively left wing for his whole career, since entering the NHL in 2001 and as a junior in Russia previously? Or Parise, who grew up playing center, played it in college and the AHL and started his NHL career as a center before moving to the left side late in his rookie season in 2006? Or Elias, who has played left wing most of his career but who has also played center at various times for the Devils over the last few seasons? Kovalchuk's offensive style of play, I think it would be fair to say, is most recognized for two signature moves or preferences: 1) playing the left point on the power play and trying to get set up for one-timers; 2) flying down the left wing with the puck and trying to cut to the middle and get a shot from the slot. He's not just a left wing, he's a player who's skill set is intricately tied to playing left wing. I don't think there's any sort of association in Parise's game, a very tenacious and highly effective game to be sure, that ties him to the left side in such a way. MacLean said he basically moved Kovalchuk over to the right because he's a right-handed shot. John MacLean was a pretty great offensive player back in the day, a right-handed shot who grew up playing when wingers did not play on their off wing. That was a European influence that only started to creep into the NHL well into the 80's as north american players and coaches began to realize the advantages of having your stick on the inside of the ice to one-time the puck or cut to the middle to shoot. John MacLean is apparently living in the fucking past, man, without even 3,000 years of beautiful tradition to back it up.

Welcoming Our Insect Overlords

Our concern is mostly with the threat to individuals, the threat to our people and our equipment, but in terms of the types of incidents that are captured in these reports, where innocent Iraqis have been killed, where there are allegations of detainee abuse, all of these things have been very well chronicled over time.

- Pentagon Spokesman Col. Dave Lapan

H/T Antiwar Blog
That's a pretty amazing statement. The government is attempting to preemptively downplay the effect of an imminent WikiLeaks release of 500,000 Iraq War documents, which have been subsequently published, by essentially noting that, "everyone already knows that we're killing innocent people and abusing detainees, nobody cares, so let's just ignore it and carry on." Some further thoughts on this completely typical and unextraordinary showing of the government's brazen contempt for its own citizens:

The Pentagon aka Where This Aggression Will Not Stand, Man is impliedly arguing against the dissemination of information to the American people because we've already made up our minds regarding the invading, destroying, and occupying of Iraq notwithstanding the existence of supposedly similar information in the public realm. And who gets to determine whether the new information is substantially similar, whether the content of the new documents has in fact been "well chronicled over time?" The people themselves? No, too big of a security threat to "to our people and our equipment." I would ask how the information increases the risk (and what the risk is, exactly), but I'm afraid those reasons have either been "well chronicled over time" or that answering the question would further increase the threat in some kind of mobious strip of unassailable, self-proclaimed justification. So, uhh, some sort of in camera review by a partial adjudicator? No, we are not in federal court, and "this is not 'Nam... there are rules." Well, there's mostly just one rule: "what we say goes." OK, who does get to decide on the materiality of the information vis-a-vis the security threat? The dudes with the hard-ons for killing people, of course! It is an astonishingly inadequate argument, and the analogous legal position, "not only can we not show you these documents because they are privileged and would harm our client, we can't tell you why they are privileged, how they would harm our client, or what kinds of information is contained in the documents, and we can't submit them to a judge for independent review to determine if they are privileged/prejudicial," would be laughed out of any court. Luckily for the U.S., and us, international or domestic courts don't have much sway over how the U.S. conducts its business, the business of killing, around the world.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nikolai Kulemin: With or Without You

I was watching a couple of Russia's qualification round games in the World Championships in Germany, and despite a roster featuring Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, Datysuk, and Kovalchuk, it was Toronto Maple Leaf forward Nikolai Kulemin that really caught my eye. I knew Maple Leaf fans, at least those who sound passingly knowledgeable, seemed to like him, and Ron Wilson and Brian Burke praised Kulemin during the season - despite sending him down to the AHL before opening night - with Wilson saying, "[h]e's probably our most complete player now." And I knew Kulemin was a star in Magnitogorsk and had some slick moves with the puck. But I did not realize just how good this guy is without the puck and how he is always in the right position and doing the right thing on the ice. If the puck comes around his side of the boards, he's probably going to win it; if their d comes out with it on the far boards, he's going to pick up the forward breaking out; if the puck moves back to his d at the point, he's going straight to the net. His hockey sense and battle level are off the charts. There are no short cuts in his game. While he doesn't have the raw skills of an Ovechkin or Kovalchuk, he's almost more fun to watch because he just does everything so right. And he has some finishing skills. So in the vein of Tyler's Backstrom WOWY and BenHasna'sFrans Nielsen WOWY (incidentally, I was not surprised in the least of Nielsen's results; I've watched him somewhat closely over the last two seasons and had already internalized those conclusions about him; he's a fantastic player), I looked at Kulemin's WOWY. I actually was surprised that his numbers, though certainly good, weren't more impressive.

One thing that jumps out that has already been commented on in various places is that Toronto's CORSI numbers are quite good. Of course, because they were trailing in so many of their games you'd expect their CORSI numbers to be inflated, but that said, it does appear that it was goaltending that did them in.

Re Kulemin, I think the results show that he made the good players (Kessel, Bozak, Grabo, Pony, Beauchemin, and Kaberle) a little bit better, and he made the not as good players (Primeau, Mitchell, and Schenn) a whole lot better. Kulemin got less favorable zone starts than almost any other Leaf forward, with the exception of Primeau which helps explain Primeau's brutal CORSI, and Kulemin faced the toughest competition of any Leaf forward. Considering those two factors makes his WOWY CORSI more impressive. What's somewhat interesting to me is how little Kulemin played with Hagman, and to a lesser extent Grabovski and Ponikarovsky, players who, IIRC, he spent a fair amount of time with the prior season. I have no idea what was going on with Lee Stempniak, who appeared to have a ridiculous CORSI with the Leafs but who couldn't get anything to go in the net, and then was traded to the Coyotes and everything went in for him but his CORSI numbers do not particularly stand out. There's probably an interesting Stempniak WOWY out there waiting to be done.

Nothing earth shattering here, but I think it certainly does not contradict my feeling that this guy is a heck of a player, and it probably helps confirm it. I'd at least bring it to the table if I was Kulemin's agent. Those negotiations are going to be very interesting, in as much as he's a difficult player to evaluate. I love watching Grabovski play - I've seen him play games where he jitterbugs all over the ice with the puck seemingly glued to his stick - but I don't see how anyone could rather have Grabovski on their team than Kulemin.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Filet Mignon or Strip Steak?

The Capitals begin their opening playoff series tonight after an historic regular season that saw them produce the 7th most impressive offensive season in the history of the post-expansion NHL. A great deal of that production has come from the team’s top line, with Ovechkin and Backstrom permanent fixtures on left wing and center, respectively, and with the right wing slot being occupied by either Mike Knuble or Alexander Semin. Semin started the season on the top line before ultimately being replaced with Knuble, with the exception of sporadic games here and there where Boudreau would reunite Semin with Backstrom and Ovechkin for a period or two with the Caps trailing. To begin the playoffs, as it has been for the last few months fairly consistently now, Knuble will be on the top line.

Which version of the top line is more effective? These numbers suggest an answer. Note that Fenwick numbers are shots plus missed shots, and Corsi numbers are Fenwick numbers plus blocked shots.

The results are fantastic for both lines, but the numbers are particularly great for the Semin version. Their Goals For / Goals Against, Shots %, and On Ice EV Shooting % indicate an exceptional level of dominance for that trio. The Knuble line has a higher On Ice EV Save %, though it’s unclear that swapping out one player would drive the results to that extent. My best guess is that Semin played a higher percentage of his minutes with that line while the Caps trailed, which would skew his On Ice EV Save % (because the Caps would face fewer but higher quality shots while trailing). It appears that Semin and Knuble each had approximately the same number of total events (shots + misses + blocked shots for and against) when on the top line and trailing. Because Semin had fewer total events than Knuble on the top line regardless of game score, I think it means that Semin probably played a greater percentage of top line minutes while the Caps trailed, relative to Knuble. That certainly comports with my understanding of how Boudreau used that line. And because their shots against totals are lower, a few extra goals against while trailing (caused by Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin being in hardcore offensive mode) would disproportionately affect the On Ice Save % more so than the Shooting % or the Shots, Fenwick, and Corsi ratios.

That would certainly distort the territorial numbers (Shots, Fenwick, and Corsi ratios) in favor of Semin as well. However, those numbers so clearly skew towards Semin, and the percentage of time the Caps spent trailing is small enough, that I think we can make the general conclusion that territorially, and in terms of scoring efficacy, the top line was at its best with Semin on it. I think it’s an important point to make and realize, though it obviously does not necessarily imply that that is the line that Boudreau should use going forward, as it does not take into account any effects on other lines. And I’m fairly confident that Boudreau ultimately knows that Semin helps that line more than Knuble, as evidenced by his reuniting it down the stretch to help Ovechkin’s cause in the scoring and goal races. But depending on the way things go at various stages of the playoffs, Boudreau should not hesitate to reunite the line when he really needs a goal or to shift the momentum in his favor. I know he'll do it in the third if the Caps are down a goal, but I think there could be other times where going to the power trio earlier makes sense.

Incidentally, I looked at a couple other lines around the league that I thought might have approximated the Caps top line with Semin. It turns out, they did not. Ovechkin / Backstrom / Semin is a ridiculously good line.