Tag Archives: Montreal Canadiens

The problem with advanced hockey statistics

More and more, you start to see more advanced statistics used in hockey, especially on the Internet.

Douglas Murray is the newest Hab, but that might not be a good thing, say some people using advanced statistics.

Most of them are confusing, and the average fan doesn’t need to use or care about them. However, it’s getting to the point when you can’t visit any site on the web without people talking about advanced statistics.

I think they’re massively overblown. Some sites use them as the be all and end all for proving why such and such a player is great or horrible. I’ve seen a lot of it lately with sites trying to figure out if the Montreal Canadiens made a smart move in signing Douglas Murray.

But many of these advanced stats don’t look at the big picture enough. The problem is, taken in a vacuum, all of these stats are useless.

Let’s use two players as example to see who is better. For now, we’ll call them player A and player B.

I’m using the 2012-13 season, all players who played at least 30 games, and these are all in 5 on 5 situations. For the record, 509 players meet these criteria.

Below is a chart that highlights where they stand in regards to some of these advanced stats:

Player A Player B
Quality of Competition 0.004 (211th) 0.043 (103rd)
Relative Corsi Quality of Competition 0.221 (285th) 0.665 (154th)
Relative Corsi Quality of Teammates 5.812 (14th) 6.116 (11th)
Relative Corsi 20.3 (12th) 20.6 (9th)
On-ice Corsi 16.10 (20th) 25.4 (5th)
On-ice team Goals Against per 60 minutes 2.25 (275th) 1.48 (480th)
On-ice team save percentage .924 (190th) .943 (46th)

Looking at that list, most would think that Player B must be better. Plays against tougher competition and is better defensively. And Corsi is better in all sorts of examples.

Maybe Fenwick, which measures puck possession statistics is better. These stats use players who had 500 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time last season (355 eligible players).

Player A Player B
Goals scored against team while player is on the ice per 20 minutes   of ice time 13.08 (153rd) 11.981 (70th)
Hockey Analysis Rating Offence 31.2 (2nd) 30.8 (3rd)
Hockey Analysis Rating Defence -5.7 (202nd) 9.6 (95th)
Hockey Analysis Rating Total 12.8 (55th) 20.2 (14th)

A lot of these stats can be broken down even more, looking at the last two-year period, or three year-period. But suffice to say, you get the point.

By the way, Player B is Tyler Seguin. Player A is Sidney Crosby. Yet these advanced stats say that Seguin is better.

That’s where these stats all fall apart. There’s so many of them now, you can cherry pick what you want to prove your point.

Habs Eyes on the Prize, an excellent Habs blog, has been pretty hard on Murray. They present some of these stats, and say it reflects on a bad signing.

I disagree, and this point was what I took away from two different articles about Murray:

I was going to use goal statistics here to add balance, but considering the goaltending Murray received last season, we know how that affects the numbers and I don’t think it’s necessary. What we can look at though, is strength of opponents.

See, something that showed Murray in a more positive light isn’t used, just mentioned in passing. Instead, the stats used lean toward the signing being a negative one.

Habs Eyes on the Prize also wrote on about whether Murray is a good penalty killer, using all these fancy stats. Here’s all I need to know about Murray:

  • Only 60 defencemen last year had more than 100 shorthanded minutes. Murray was one of them.
  • He was 20th among all defencemen in blocked shots.
  • He was tied for 30th among all defencemen in hits.
  • Only eight defencemen had more hits and blocked shots combined.
  • He was in three fights last year, and won all of them.
  • Despite being slower, he doesn’t take a lot of penalties. Last year, he had just 35 pims. Take out the fights, that equates to only 10 minor penalties (about one every four games).
  • While killing penalties, he starts in the offensive zone four per cent of the time, but finishes there 45.1 per cent.

Here’s the thing: Murray is making only $600,000 over the league minimum. And he’s coming in as a sixth/seventh defenceman. He’s not going to be coming in and playing 20 minutes a game.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some important non-traditional stats. Top teammates, PDO, offensive zone starts, etc.

But advanced stats can get out of hand. You can look at them all you want and use them to prove whatever you want. But in the end, they don’t really prove anything.

And that’s the most important thing to remember about advanced stats.

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Roy followed a Habs tradition when he left

One thing that really bothers me is when people call Patrick Roy classless for demanding a trade from the Habs years ago.

Patrick isn’t the first Habs superstar to leave the team, but he takes the most grief for it. (Antoine Letarte photo, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s come up a lot again lately, with Roy being named the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. It seems to come every few years, whether it’s retiring his jersey, or being in the running for the Habs head coaching position.

In case you don’t know the story, on Dec. 2, 1995, Patrick Roy was left in net for nine goals, as the Habs lost 12-1 to the Detroit Red Wings. When he was pulled, he went past the coach, Mario Tremblay, and told team president Ronald Corey that he would never play a game for Montreal again.

Four days later, he and captain Mike Keane was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for Andre Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault.

Nowadays, a lot of fans remember that game, and still hold a grudge against Roy. I think it’s silly. But people say what Roy did was classless, and goes against the tradition of the Habs organization.

After all, old-time players would never do something like that.

Really? If anything, Roy simply followed a long-honoured tradition of bailing on the team. It doesn’t take long going through the Habs history to find examples of players and coaches turning their backs on the organization.

Here are some of the biggest:

1) Guy Lafleur. When Guy Lafleur left the organization during the middle of the 1984-85 season, he didn’t retire because he was feeling old, worn down or tired of the game. No, he left because he didn’t like the ice time he received from coach Jacques Lemaire. Lafleur asked to be traded, but when told he wouldn’t be, he packed his bags and quit. He made a decision that he would rather not play hockey rather than stay with the Habs organization because of troubles he was having with his coach. Sound familiar? Yet Roy gets chastised while Lafleur is still remembered as a Habs legend.

2) Bernie Boom-Boom Geoffrion. Geoffrion didn’t have ice time to blame for leaving the Habs. No, his was a different reason: the captaincy. Apparently, he was so upset that Beliveau was given the C in 1961 that it gnawed at him until he decided he would rather retire than play for the Habs.

3) Gump Worsley. Roy wasn’t the first goalie to quit on the Habs in the middle of a season. The coach at the time, Claude Ruel, was playing Rogatien Vachon more, and wanted to send Worsley to the minors. He refused and quit the team, eventually deciding to retire.

4) Scotty Bowman. Yes, it’s not just limited to players. After the 1978-79 season, the Habs decided to hire Irving Grundman as general manager. So Bowman quit the team and went to coach the Buffalo Sabres instead.

There’s four good examples of superstars leaving the Habs organization because they weren’t happy with the team, for what ever reason. And I’m sure we could find more if we tried. Yet Roy is the one that takes the brunt of the criticism.

Look, I’m not saying that you can’t be angry at Roy for what he did. But it’s hypocritical to blame him for turning his back on the Habs while not doing the same for the other players who have done the same.

It’s time to forgive Roy for leaving the team.

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What happened to the Habs?

So the Habs lost yesterday to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Brandon Prust is one of the few Habs that will go to the net.

I plan on doing another post next week about what the Habs need to do in the offseason.

But for now, we should look at what happened? Why did the Habs lose?

The goaltending? Outcoached? Lack of toughness?

No, it all comes down to one thing: Going to the net. Simple, but that’s the problem.

Look at the goals scored by the Ottawa Senators in any game. They weren’t scoring on bombs from the point, or one-timers. They were going to the net, creating havoc and getting the bounces. But the bounces were coming for the Sens because guys were in position.

Look at game 4 of the series. The Habs were up 2-0 midway through the third. Mika Zibanejad went to the net, the puck went off his skate and into the net. Some say it was kicked in. It doesn’t matter. The point is, Zibanejad put himself into position to score. The game-tying goal? Cory Conacher going to the net.

Look at last night’s game. The Sens were heading to the net all game. Zack Smith and Conacher each scored in this manner. But the goal that sealed it was the shorthanded one by the Kyle Turris. After that goal, the Habs lost all emotion and fight. But how did Turris score? On a shorthanded 2-on-1, he went to the net. Plekanec pushed Turris into Budaj, and the puck went off Turris and into the net.

If Turris didn’t make a beeline for the net, that never would have happened.

Now think of the other side. Can you think of a goal the Habs scored the same way? No. They were trying to score from the point with no one screening Anderson. The Habs goal last night was by P.K. Subban on a shot from the point. That was it. In Game 3, it was Rene Bourque scoring on a fluke goal from the slot that Anderson should have had. Even in Game 4, Subban’s and Galchenyuk’s goals were shots, but no one was going toward the net.

It was the biggest difference in the series. As mentioned, Ottawa got the bounces because they worked for them. How many times did we see a Montreal player throw it to the net, and have the puck bounce off Anderson and no one there for the rebound? Way too many.

The Habs are in need of players who are willing to do this. Sure, Prust and Moen may do it, but they’re not goal scorers. The Habs need guys who can screen the goal and make life difficult for the other team’s goalie.

If not, it will be hard to win any playoff series in the future.

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Alexei Kovalev retires: Is Hall of Fame next?

So Alexei Kovalev retired from the NHL yesterday, and already there is speculation that he should be a hall of famer.

Alexei Kovalev played for the Habs for a few years.

But is he good enough to be elected to the hall four years from now? I thought it would be fun to try and figure it out.

A couple of years ago, I said a hall of famer should meet most of the Stanley Cups, leadership, better playoff performer than regular season, individual awards, great statistical seasons (ie- 50 goals), considered a top player at their position during their career, overall career statistics, international play and intangibles.

So let’s see how many of these Kovalev hits:

Stanley Cups: He won a Cup with the New York Rangers back in 1994, and was actually one of the first four Russian players to have their names engraved on the Cup. He finished that playoffs with nine goals and 21 points in 23 games, which was third on the team.

Leadership: This all depends on who you ask. Some say he was great, especially in Montreal and in the playoffs. Others (such as me) believe he was more detrimental to the team, as he there were games he just wouldn’t show up for.

Better playoff performer than regular season: Yes, but just barely. In 123 playoff games, he had 45 goals and 100 points. Just like the regular season though, there were some games/series he showed up for, some he didn’t.

Individual awards: None, but he made the all-star team three times.

Great statistical seasons: None. He never had a 50-goal season, or even a 100-point season.

Considered a top player at their position during their career: No. He was once a second team all-star, but over his career, he was shadowed by Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla Brett Hull and countless other right wingers.

Overall career statistics: He finished with 430 goals and 599 assists, for 1,029 points. So those are pretty decent numbers, especially since he played in the dead puck era.

International play: Won a world junior medal, an Olympic gold medal, an Olympic bronze medal and a bronze world championship.

Intangibles: Often called “the most talented player in the game,” usually preceded by “When he wants to be.” He had some sick moves, and opposing fans were always scared of him. And he was responsible for my favourite Darcy Tucker highlight of all-time.

In the end, Kovalev meets only four of the criteria. He was a decent player, but he wasn’t good enough for the Hall of Fame. Maybe if he wanted to be the most talented player in the game more often, it would be a different story.

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Michael Ryder back to the Habs

So the Habs traded Eric Cole for Michael Ryder and a third round pick yesterday.

Michael Ryder is on his way back to Montreal.

This was a brilliant move. The Habs cleared up cap space, got rid of a guy who simply did not have the effort this season and had a no-trade clause, and ended up with an extra pick in a deep draft.

During the game against the Senators on Monday night, I thought Cole was a healthy scratch until he rang a shot off the crossbar late in the second period. I had no idea he was even playing until that point.

Cole didn’t want to be in Montreal, so he’s gone.

But I’m especially excited Ryder is coming back to the Habs. He’s always been one of my favourite players. He’s a Newfie playing on my favourite team. How could he not be?

I have a few fond memories of Ryder in Montreal his first go around. One was a game that made it to the top 10 all-time Habs games DVD. On Feb. 19, 2008, the Habs were down 5-0 to the New York Rangers. when the came back to win 6-5 in a shootout. Ask most Habs fans what they remember about that game, and most of them will mention Saku Koivu’s shootout winner.

What’s often forgotten is who sparked the comeback. Michael Ryder scored two goals before the second period was over to make it 5-2. And in the third, with the score 5-3, he took a shot that bounced off Mark Streit’s leg to bring the game to a 5-4. He was the first star of the game, as he finished with two goals and an assist and was a +2 (second highest on the team that night). That comeback doesn’t happen without Ryder.

Another big game of his occurred on April 7, 2007. The Habs needed a win to make the playoffs, and they were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ryder had a hat trick and an assist in the second period. In total, he took seven shots. The rest of the team didn’t fare so well. Chris Higgins was the only other goal scorer as the Habs lost 6-5, and missed the playoffs. The Habs chased the Leafs starting goalie out of the game, and then proceeded to take only six shots on the backup Jean-Sebastion Aubin in 30 minutes of action. Ryder and Higgins showed up to play. The rest of the team didn’t, and it cost them a playoff spot.

Sure, sure, you say. I’m only remembering specific games. He wasn’t that great, you may think.

But the stats tell another story. Remember how excited Habs fans were last year when Max Pacioretty scored 30 goals? Ryder did that twice, and had another season of 25 goals. He averaged 15 powerplay goals a season with the Habs. Yet he only played about 16 minutes a game.

Most Habs fans remember his final season with the team, when he scored 14 goals and 31 points in a full season. But then coach Guy Carbonneau wasn’t a fan of Ryder, and cut his ice time (three minutes less per game), and had him playing on the third and fourth line, with players such as Bryan Smolinski.

I think he was unfairly criticized in Montreal, especially in his last season.

Ryder is a goal scorer. He needs to play, and he needs quality linemates. He’s not the greatest defensive player, although he’s unfairly maligned for his play in his own zone.

But he hustles, and he shoots. That was what I liked about him the most. During a period when the Habs would cycle the puck and not shoot very often, Ryder understood the only way to score was to put the puck on the net. In his first three years with the Habs, he was one of the top two shooters on the team every season.

Ryder is older now. But he can still score (35 goals last year) and still likes to put pucks at the net (averaging 2.5 shots a game last season).

The Canadiens don’t need him to be a saviour. But as long as he’s a little better than what Cole was, then it’s a win for the Habs. And based on his track record, I think he’ll do just fine in Montreal.

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What is the appeal of Tomas Plekanec

If you’ve only been looking at the score sheet, you probably think Tomas Plekanec is having a good year.

I just don’t see the appeal of Tomas Plekanec.

After all, he’s got six goals and five assists in 12 games. Pretty good, right?

Wrong. Despite all his points, he’s not having that great a year.

Too many times, he has cost the Habs wins. By my count, there’s been at least two games this year where the Habs lost as a direct result of Pleks, and one where they almost blew it.

Now, before I go any further, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m not the biggest fan of Pleks. I think he’s overpaid, and people love him more than he deserves. But I want to get my bias out of the way first.

So now, let’s look at his games this year.

Penalties

In the first game of the season, Pleks took a silly penalty against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bearing down on Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens, Pleks gave Scrivens a snow shower. This started being a penalty a year or so ago. I’ve seen it called numerous times. It was a stupid move by Pleks. Tyler Bozak scored what would be the game winning goal on the powerplay.

Last night, Pleks took a tripping penalty in the last two minutes of a 3-2 game against Tampa. The Lightning scored, and the Habs were lucky to win in a shootout.

Against Ottawa last week, he had a penalty 24 seconds into the game for goalie interference. The Sens scored, but the Habs won the game.

Against the Leafs on Saturday, he got a holding penalty in the third period. The Leafs scored on that one.

He’s taken four minor penalties this year, and the opposition has scored on every one of them.

Faceoffs

Last week against the Boston Bruins, the Habs were leading 1-0 going into the third period. Pleks lost the first faceoff, and 14 seconds later, the puck is behind Carey Price when Tyler Seguin scored. And Pleks was with Seguin until Seguin  went to the front of the net, and Pleks left to go to the corner. Seguin was Plekanec’s guy in that case, but he let him go.

A little bit later, Pleks lost a faceoff, and 21 seconds later, the puck is in our net. The guy who scored (David Krejci) is the guy who Pleks was trying to backcheck against and couldn’t catch up.

Plekanec won 2 of 9 faceoffs in third period, when we needed those wins the most. Earlier in the game, he had an absolute whiff on a breakaway. All in all, a horrible night

His faceoff percentage this year is 46.5 per cent. Last night, he won 12 of 26 faceoffs. He won five of 21 faceoffs in a game against the Devils, and only four of 19 against the Leafs.

He’s our top faceoff guy, but can’t win even half of them.

Other stats

So far this year, Pleks has only two hits, three blocked shots, and is a -3 so far. Before last night’s game, his shooting percentage was 17.6 percent. He has not been above 11.6 per cent in five years, so he’s due for a regression soon. When his points start coming down, these errors of his will seem even more costly.

He’s a streaky player. His season point totals for the last five seasons look like this: 69, 39, 70, 57, 52. Last year, he started off the season with 20 points in 20 games. He then got 32 in the last 62 games.

He’s a horrible shootout guy. He’s 4-for-22 (18 per cent) on shootout attempts in his career.

He has a no-trade clause, so we probably couldn’t deal him if we wanted to.

He doesn’t make the guys around him better. How many times has someone said “You know, player X is struggling. We should put him on a line with Plekanec. That’ll snap him out of it.” I’m guessing that answer is zero.

And the most important stat: He’s owed another $15 million over the next three season after this one.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the love for this guy. He’s great at penalty killing, and he’s great at um…. er….. penalty killing? What else does he do well? I just don’t get it.

Someone please explain it to me.

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Who should the Habs buy out?

As part of the new CBA, NHL teams will get to buy out two players if they choose to do so this summer.

English: Tomas Plekanec Français : Tomas Plekanec

English: Tomas Plekanec Français : Tomas Plekanec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Many people are already speculating that the Montreal Canadiens will use it to buy out Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle. While they are normally worthy players to be bought out, it would be a mistake to do so this summer.

Yes, I know the Habs have already announced that Gomez will not play this season and will be bought out in the summer. But in reality, that’s probably not the best move. Gomez is signed for only one more year after this year. Same with Kaberle.

While buying them out will bring immediate cap relief, it’s not a good long-term solution. The Habs should be looking at players who they should have off the books for more than one season.

Top candidates right now are Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque and Eric Cole. Here are some pros and cons for each.

Rene Bourque. Pros to buying him out: He sucks. He has no heart. He doesn’t hit. He doesn’t play defence. He’s not a playmaker.

Cons: He’s a former 25-plus goal scorer and has a pretty good cap hit. Even if he doesn’t work out for the Habs, those reasons might give another team the idea that they can reform him back to a power forward.

Erik Cole: Pros to buying him out: He’s thinking about retiring anyway because he doesn’t like the new CBA. He’s older. He has a no-trade clause. Signed for two more years.

Cons: He’s key to bringing this team back to respectability. He’s a leader. He meshes well with our top line.

Plekanec: Pros to buying him out: Overpaid. Now a second line centre, and could be third line centre in a year or two. Doesn’t make guys around him better. No trade clause.

Cons: Our best defensive centre. Can score (five straight 20-goal seasons). Brings depth to the lineup.

All these guys are signed for at least two more seasons after this one. Both Pleks and Bourque are signed for three. Getting rid of one or two of these contracts will bring longer term cap relief. Both Gomez and Kaberle are gone after next season anyways. So why waste an amnesty buyout on someone who has one year left in the contract?

Plus, the Habs would be getting rid of those pesky no-trade contracts. If they don’t get rid of them now, they’ll be stuck with those deals for several years with limited options.

Just say if the Habs bought out Cole and Pleks instead of Kaberle and Gomez. In a year, they’d be without Gomez, Kaberle, Cole and Plekanec. That’s a savings of close to $21 million in cap space. That’s pretty good. That savings would allow them to be big players on the free agent market and go after guys like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Jarome Iginla.

Or even better, the summer of 2014: Here’s a quick list of the top free agents: Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Pavel Datsyuk, Paul Stastny, Dion Phaneuf, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Phil Kessel, Patrice Bergeron, Kris Letang, and Dustin Brown. And I didn’t even get into the goalies (Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak will all be free agents).

Wouldn’t it be better to clear the cap space and make a run at one or two of those guys? Sure, most of them will get re-signed before they even get a whiff of free agency, but a couple of them will decide to test the market. And not every team will be able to re-sign them, since the salary cap limit is coming done.

Imagine if the Habs could make a run for Thornton and Bergeron in two years. Or if they were able to get Letang and Phaneuf to replace Andrei Markov and Tomas Kaberle.

That’s why it’s imperative to clear the space while they can. They have a good opportunity. Even if they do buy out Gomez, they can still use the other buyout to get rid of a longer-term problem.

The Habs need to take advantage of this opportunity while they can.