Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis finished 1-2 in the NHL in plus-minus mostly because they played on a line with the productive Sidney Crosby. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Thoughts on the value, or lack thereof, of plus-minus; analysis of the Bobby Ryan trade and overvaluation of potential; the Jets’ mishandling of Alexander Burmistrov; and my favorite understated acquisitions:
• Here’s an increasingly contentious issue you’ll probably not feel much passion for: the value of plus-minus!
My belief is it’s utterly useless, except maybe when there are major anomalies within teams (i.e. a player who is plus-10 on a team of minuses).
Corsi and Fenwick tell more of the story about a player’s contribution than plus-minus and are gaining popularity among teams and talent evaluators. These analytics by no means express the full contribution of a player by themselves, but they do provide a level of clarity. And that’s the key. Ask any scout or GM in the league about player evaluation and they’ll tell you it’s imperative to get all the information you can about a player to feel comfortable about making a decision or having a professional opinion on them. It’s not about only looking at analytical stats – it’s about incorporating them with other stats and long-standing scouting practices. To ignore them out of hand is to intentionally block out a new perspective and method of analysis, which runs against everything talent evaluators should stand for.
Hockey analytics aren’t perfect, but they’re an improvement over some current stats, such as plus-minus. They also can’t be equated with baseball analytics, made popular by Moneyball, because that sport is much more rigid and, therefore, stats-friendly. For example, if a runner is on first base and the batter hits a looping one-bounce single to left field, only so many things are likely to happen on the play. Hockey is more unpredictable and chaotic – but that doesn’t mean there is no room at all for modern stats.
In a recent THN meeting I made a push to completely do away with mentioning plus-minus in any stories or cutlines, because the information is utterly useless and meaningless. (Don’t worry poolies, I know the stat is still used in some fantasy leagues, so plus-minus would still have a place in my idea of the Poolbook.)
No decision was made, but it's up for discussion. It’s a debate worth having, because plus-minus seems to be an obsolete stat on the way out.
• The Senators made a bold trade in adding Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for three young, very promising assets: Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick. They may have paid a hefty price for the winger. But the key word is “may.”
In today’s league, young assets hold value beyond potential – their entry-level contracts are cheap against the cap and their near-futures are easily controllable. But analysis can’t stop at age and potential: there’s plenty to say about acquiring a 26-year-old, four-time 30-goal scorer.
Ryan has two years left on his contract with a $5.1-million cap hit, after which he’ll be unrestricted free agency-eligible and likely seeking star player money. In that sense, the Senators took a risk (though I’d assume they’re prepared to shell out for the eventual pay raise or else they wouldn't have taken on this player for this price). But I don’t see how the Senators can possibly ever “lose” this trade, outside of Ryan taking an immediate and substantial dip in production.
Sure, Silfverberg could reach and exceed his offensive potential and I’d bet on him becoming a solid NHL player. Sure, Noesen’s shot could translate to NHL scoring stardom. And, sure, the first-round pick could end up being a player who sticks around the league for 20 years. That’s a lot of “coulds” that have to come together for the Senators to really look bad on this one. Ryan WILL score 30 goals again and again.
About 30 players will score 30 goals in any given NHL season – the last time more than that reached the plateau was in 2008-09. And from the first season Ryan reached 30 goals (2008-09) through this season, he ranks 20th in the league in goals per game. The only player with more 30-goal seasons in that span is Alex Ovechkin with five.
Ryan will no longer have Ryan Getzlaf sending him passes, but Jason Spezza is no slouch in that area. You know what you’re getting in Ryan year over year – he’s established as one of the top 20 goal scorers in the game and likely will continue to be for some time to come.
And even if the other side of the deal comes together perfectly for Anaheim, Ottawa still got the immediate boost it was after to help keep its momentum going in the right direction. Can the Sens really ever “lose” a deal in which they’re getting the exact player and contribution they desired and paid for? It’s not as though they significantly depleted their impressive pipeline of futures – they could afford it from the start. I’d say the greater risk was taken by Anaheim, who acquired a whole lot of potential and controllability, but also a whole lot of uncertainty.
There’s a lot to be said about young assets in a capped league – but even more to be said about a known commodity with a long shelf life.
• The Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers messed up bad with Alexander Burmistrov. 1. He was rushed to the NHL for no good reason. 2. They never put him in a consistent lineup spot that gave him a chance to succeed, let alone improve his offensive output. 3. After trade rumors and little NHL ice time, the Jets forced Burmistrov to spend the lockout in St. John’s rather than play in the Kontinental League as he really wanted. No good came from that short stint and only further pushed the player away. 4. While all this was unfolding, they didn’t trade him over the two years of rumors that were flying. Now he’s in the KHL, where his trade value will only disintegrate further.
• My favorite understated off-season acquisitions so far: T.J. Brennan in Toronto, Anton Khudobin in Carolina, Boyd Gordon in Edmonton (though he was paid more than I expected), Matt Frattin in Los Angeles, Pierre-Marc Bouchard with the Islanders, Matt Hendricks in Nashville and Michael Frolik in Winnipeg.
• Finally, I hope one day Jeremy Roenick gets into the Hall of Fame. Not next year, not even necessarily five years from now, but someday. His goal and point totals at least put him on the edge of any Hall discussion, but his vocal love and promotion of the game set him apart and deserves eventual recognition.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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