Ramblings: Finals, Analytics and Trades, Stamkoswatch

by Ian Gooding on May 29, 2016

Stanley Cup Final, analytics and trades, Stamkoswatch, plus more…

The Dobber Hockey Experts Panel picks for the Stanley Cup Final will be up later today. But since I’m inundated with write-ups from all the writers (thanks everyone and thanks to Neil for forwarding all of the responses along), I’ll provide you with my pick and my reasoning below, since it’s longer than the average writeup.

I’m going with the Penguins in 6. Find out later today whether the majority of the rest of the panel agrees with me. I’ll say this about my picks: This season hasn’t been one of my better ones. I’m now 7-7 thanks to my successful Pittsburgh pick and unsuccessful St. Louis pick in the conference final.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the way the Sharks are playing right now. But at the beginning of the season, who were you more likely to pick as a Cup champion – the Penguins or the Sharks? What about at the start of the playoffs? Don’t forget about home-ice advantage, which favors the Penguins at the moment. But what gives between the Penguins’ home record (26-11-4) and the Sharks’ road record (28-10-3)? (These are regular season records; the Penguins are 7-3 at home and the Sharks are 5-4 on the road during the playoffs.)

Never mind the tired cliché that one obvious player like Sidney Crosby or Joe Thornton will be the difference maker. The Penguins were the NHL’s best team after the new year (although the Sharks only won two fewer games). This is the strongest Penguins’ team in years because they finally have some scoring depth, which puts less pressure on the goalie to steal games. Say, I wonder if the Pens would have gotten this far with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. This week, I’m not going to open up the can of worms about who will be the starter in Pittsburgh next season (just kidding – I think it’ll be Fleury – I know I’m a troublemaker).

With what I’ve listed above, these things are too close to call. Are the Sharks really this good? Don’t forget that this is a team that missed the playoffs last season. Regardless, the re-emergence of Joe Thornton is a great story. Remember when Doug Wilson wanted to trade him and Thornton said he should “keep his mouth shut”? That seems like a distant memory.

Leafs nation, rejoice. I’m predicting that the Conn Smythe Trophy will be awarded to Phil Kessel. Not that the playoffs should have a major effect on a player’s fantasy value, but isn’t Kessel more desirable for fantasy teams now? The switch actually got hit before the playoffs, as Kessel scored 19 points over his last 21 games. The chemistry with Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin is one factor, but here’s two more for you: 1) Kessel doesn’t have to be the man in Pittsburgh like he was in Toronto, and 2) It often takes time for a player to adjust to the system of his new team. For the first time in a while, we can say that Kessel is truly in a great spot.

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Second-guessing Team Canada’s roster has become a regular tradition, and that should be no different with the 2016 World Cup entry. What, no Corey Perry or P.K. Subban? Just remember that it’s the same armchair GMing everywhere else, including the United States. Doesn’t Phil Kessel deserve a spot after a strong playoff?

Remember that Canada could ice a second team that would be fairly competitive in this tournament. So there are naturally some top names that will be left off. Don’t forget that injuries can also occur in the offseason and even in the pre-tournament, which could necessitate the need for one or more of the snubs. Just something to remember if you felt strongly that a certain player should have been included.

Also, an online poll from the local sports talk radio station suggested that less than 20 percent of respondents were excited about the World Cup. If you’re a hockey fan, you might want to get into this tournament because you might not be getting any Olympics in 2018. Even if you don’t like the new format that includes Team North America and Team Europe.

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As a Canucks fan, I’ve learned to cringe every time I hear that Jim Benning has made another deal. My initial reaction to the Erik GudbransonJared McCann trade on Wednesday. This is a steep price to pay for Gudbranson, particularly with the draft picks favoring Florida (fantasy take from Dobber here).

What’s unique about this deal, though, is how this news has evolved into yet another battleground for the analytics evangelists and the old-school hockey types. If you haven’t been following, the “fancy stats” crowd believes that Florida made off like bandits, while the “eye test” crowd is convinced that Vancouver hit a home run with this deal. Expect more deals like this to be made in the future as analytics and non-analytics teams exchange assets that they value much differently. 

I’m hardly the world’s foremost authority when it comes to advanced stats. But shouldn’t they be less relevant to the actual value of a stay-at-home defenseman such as Gudbranson than they are to players whose main value to a team is offense? We have all sorts of stats for scorers, but measuring the worth of a player not brought in for scoring is more difficult to quantify. I’m not sure if comparing McCann and Gudbranson on the same chart is worthwhile if their games are as different as apples and broccoli.  

I know Benning has taken his share of lumps, but I love his comment comparing advanced stats to vitamins. Put another way, would you only consume supplements such as protein powder if you wanted to get bigger and stronger? Of course not, because you also need the nutrition that only natural food can provide. Concluding that Gudbranson is no more than a fifth defenseman because his possession numbers are poor seems like a one-dimensional argument, particularly because size, toughness, and a right-handed shot are elements that the Canucks’ defense so desperately needs. I learned that by watching that team many times last season. And I’ll take the word of those who have watched Florida play more than I have that Gudbranson a quality NHL defenseman.

This doesn’t mean for a minute that advanced stats are worthless. Use any competitive advantage you can obtain to advance ahead of the curve. Teams such as Florida and Arizona are using this approach in the hopes that they will be playing for the Stanley Cup one day. But the better approach might be the one used by the Toronto Maple Leafs (believe it or not), who are balancing the management and scouting experience of Lou Lamoriello with the statistical expertise of Kyle Dubas. Use the skills that both provide, rather than being limited by the shortcomings of one. Something to consider when drafting your fantasy team too.

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Neil covered you extremely well with the latest news in the hockey world in Saturday’s Ramblings, so I’ll pick up some of the leftovers I can find.

In an interview with Sportsnet 960 in Calgary on Friday morning, Elliotte Friedman believes Detroit is the most likely destination for Alexander Radulov (Today’s Slapshot). So essentially the Wings could be making a 1-for-1 swap with the KHL if Pavel Datsyuk does in fact decides to head home. There’s even talk that the Wings could even try to trade Datsyuk’s contract to a cap floor team, similar to the way the Flyers traded Chris Pronger’s contract to the Coyotes last summer.

Don’t forget about the Memorial Cup today, where the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies face the OHL champion London Knights. For some more Mem Cup info (along with what’s happening in the AHL playoffs) you’ll want to check out Friday’s Prospect Ramblings.  

No Contrarian this week, but he’ll be back next week. I always look forward to being the first person to read what he’s thinking about.

Apropos of nothing… here’s a wickedly cool baseball jersey… I guess P.K. Subban is taking his omission from Canada’s World Cup roster in stride…

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Finally, looking through some of the hot stove articles, I think there’s going to be a lot happening this summer as far as player transactions go, and it may not all happen on July 1 as it seems to have in other offseasons. Oftentimes teams may wait for the big names to sign before the rest of the dominos fall. But I get the feeling that this Steven Stamkos thing is going to drag out well past July 1. Both he and the Lightning are expressing an interest in a return, but it’s going to take a while to come to terms, as well as a sizeable hometown discount.

I’ll ask this: Will a team invest $10 million in a player that just underwent blood clot surgery? Even that other much-discussed team that wears blue and white? Just my two cents worth. But I’m sure we’ll have more to say about this as the offseason rolls on.

Enjoy your Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.