Mission Accomplished

All that screeching on the fan boards has finally paid off. Bob Gainey succumbed to the demands of teenagers who spend their summer vacations in their parents' basements posting lists of must-have free agents. The result: Sergei Samsonov for two years at $7.05M. To make room for Sammy, Zednik (who was signed for one more year at $1.9M) was dealt back to Washington for what should be a high 3rd round pick. It looks like an OK deal for one of the youngest top-line UFAs ever. Beats the pants off Doug Weight for the same amount and term.

Next acquisition: Mike Johnson from Phoenix for a 4th round pick. This looks like a replacement for Bulis.

Speaking of Bulis, I can't help thinking this guy got a raw deal. He's an above-average checking-line player and he was happy with that role. He's got OK size, lots of speed, and was a solid plus player. Maybe Gainey has some off-ice justification for letting him go. By all appearances, one of the other 29 teams is going to be getting good cost-effective icetime out of him.

As for Johnson, I haven't seen much of him since his days with the Leafs. He appears to be an OK two-way forward.

Other signings:

Mike Ribeiro, one year at $1.9M. Unreal. I was hoping to see 30-goal man Ryder signed for that amount. I guess I'm out of touch with reality, like some little old lady on The Price Is Right who thinks new Cadillacs still cost about $6000. Ribs said he didn't want to risk a paycut by going to arbitration. Which begs the question, Why the H-E-double-hockey-sticks didn't Gainey take HIM to arbitration? How is Saku's eye, anyway?

Mikhail Grabovsky, two-year two-way deal. Finally!

J-P Cote, one year two-way. Cote's skating appears to be a disturbing, unnatural act, like biting your elbow. Body parts just aren't supposed to move like that. Eyesore or not, he filled in admirably when the Habs' blueline was severely depleted.

Mathieu Aubin and Matt d'Agostini: filler for the Bulldogs.

Yet to be signed:

Michael Ryder. I figured $2M would be an upper limit for him until the Ribeiro deal. There haven't been many comparable RFA deals this summer. Some previous RFA salaries were Parrish at $1.9M, Sturm at $2.1, Comrie at $1.75, and maybe Calder at $1.3M. $2M seems like a lot for a guy who doesn't skate well and only gets all the plum PP minutes because no one else on the team can finish.

Alexander Perezhogin. It will be less than $1M. Just a matter of time.

Here's a salary chart. It's annoyingly grainy unless you click on it, and I'm not going to fix it because I'm lazy:

There appears to be one unresolved issue: Aebischer.

What's best for the team? The pairing of Huet/Aeby at just under $5M? Or Huet/Danis and the sack of peanuts Aeby fetches in a trade for just under $3.5M?

Dan Cloutier was worth a mid-2nd round pick. That suggests there isn't much of a market out there for Aebischer right now. Plus, the $1.9M in cap space is pretty much irrelevant for the Habs since they won't be spending close to the limit. It's probably wise to wait and see who needs goaltending mid-season then reconsider.


"Even places like Montreal. You'd say to yourself wow, that's the birthplace of real hockey, and you'd think they'd want all that mystique that goes with Montreal. But I've had players say 'I don't want to go there, hell it's cold up there.' "

Oh well. That's free agency for you.


To further beat a dead horse, here's a table comparing some high-risk/high-reward defensemen to some low-risk/low-reward types with comparable +/- and even-strength minutes:

Looking only at their even-strength differential (per 60 minutes or per game) Chelios and Preissing are very close, as are Blake and Regehr. I included Blake and Preissing with an extra plus, just to bring the numbers closer to (or better than, in Preissing's case) their comparisons.

Looking at the 'Pythagorized' +/- (which will be the same, whether you judge per 60 or per game), all four are better than .500. Chelios beats Preissing and Regehr beats Blake.

I'm not saying which players are better than others - not even when judging by EV+/- alone. That's impossible to gauge without including teammates/opposition (Chelios and Regehr are on better teams, but I think they also face better forwards than the other two). It's merely an illustration of how a linear/differential-based evaluation will differ from a ratio/Pythagorean-based evaluation.

Update: I just did some calculations on what Blake and Preissing would have to do to bring their pyth. goal differential up to the levels of Regehr and Chelios.

Given the same number of minuses, Preissing would have to bring his plusses up by 10 for a net differential of +29 in order to reach Chelios' 0.72. Blake would have to gain an additional 7 plusses for a net of +12 to reach Regehr's 0.58.

That's a bizarre thing to wrap your head around. For Blake to be as effective as Regehr's +5 (+32/-27) at even strength, he has to produce a +12 (+77/-65). For Preissing to be as effective as Chelios' +19 (+50/-31), he has to produce +29 (+77/-48). Those are big differences.

Update 2: Thinking even more about ratio vs. differential, it would seem that it's better to be a gambler than a stay-at-home type if your differential is sub-zero.

For precisely the same reason that +10/-5 is better than +20/-15, putting up +15/-20 is better than +5/-10. If a team scores 10 and allows 20, they will not have as good a record as a team that scores 30 and allows 40 over the same number of games.

A stay-at-home +5 is better than a risk-taker's +5, but a stay-at-home -5 is worse than a risk-taker's -5. Weird.


Ah, it's close enough for government work

What correlates best with win%: The ratio of GF/GA or the goal differential?

To answer that question, I compared the correlations of each to the actual win% for every team over the last 15 seasons (not including '94-'95). The result was a dead heat: both had correlations of 0.97.

But what happens when you only look at the good clubs? Teams with a goal differential of at least +40? There were 83 teams that fit this criteria, and here are the resulting correlations to win%:

Ratio of GF/GA:.. 0.77
Pyth. W%:............ 0.76
Goal differential:. 0.68

Scoring 40 more than your opposition means more for lower-scoring teams than high-scoring teams. Think of it this way: Over a 20-game stretch, one team scores 40 and allows zero. Another team scores 140 and allows 100. Obviously both teams are better than average, but it should be obvious which will have the better record. It should also be obvious that the further you get from zero goals-against, the less that +40 means. 140GF and 100GA is better than 240GF and 200GA.

A real world example: Both the '02 Red Wings and the '92 Red Wings had goal differentials of +64. With 251GF and 187GA, the '02 Wings had a win% of .707. With 320GF and 256GA, the '92 Wings were .613. The Pyth. win% for each was .610 and .643, respectively.

My point here is to argue a beef I have with Alan Ryder's player contribution system.

Ryder says that the goal differential can provide a reasonable approximation of team success. It's also much easier to use than pythagorean methods. Ryder is correct, as illustrated by the equal correlations of GF/GA and goal differential with win%. The flaw with the differential is exposed when you diverge from average, as the correlations when goal diff. is +40 indicate. Ryder says this in his paper, but assumes the differential will be 'good enough' for most teams.

The problem with the Player Contribution is that it extends this linear team-level assumption to players. Teams, being aggregates of players, can't diverge as far from the norm as much as individual players can. The difference between the best and worst player will be wider than the difference between the best and worst teams. This amplifies the error in assuming the goal differential will be 'good enough' for analysis of individual players.

A player who contributes 40GF and 20GA is evaluated as equal to a player who contributes 20GF and *zero* GA. This is plain wrong. It is especially wrong if you're going to use this Player Contribution index to evaluate the best players in the league, who are the furthest from the norm.

It's certainly interesting to look at, and it's fun to come up with ways to compare players that go beyond the usual statistics. It also may be true that this goal differential may be a good enough estimate for most purposes. I'm just pointing out a caveat.



First, an update on some prospects...

Hockeysfuture.com had a Q&A with Mat Carle.

The Kootenay paper had an article on Ben Maxwell. It suggests the Habs tried but failed to trade up to select Maxwell early in the 2nd round.

And now for the next big thing...

Dallas has their Finns. New York has Jagr and his merry band of Czech Rangers. A
Wild Slovakian dyad is now in place in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Montreal Canadiens have The Kostitsyn Bros. & Mikhail Grabovsky. Yes, an all-Belarussian line. Never mind the Flying Frenchmen - here come the Belarussian Bullies!

But seriously, Andrei Kostitsyn is the only one of the three that could make the Habs next year, and that's not even a given. Although there have been rumours, I have yet to see a formal announcement of Grabovsky's signing. The younger Kostitsyn, Sergei/Siarhei, only just finished his rookie year in the OHL with London.


Breaking news: FAs don't like the taxation, pressure, language environment in Montreal.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. This revelation is often trotted out to explain the lack of FA activity in Habsland. There is truth in it, but this year the reality is that Gainey is almost certainly seeking only one mid-level forward on the FA market and/or a depth defenseman. And maybe not even that - he could go with more youth next year.

You can already fill out a 23-man depth chart with signed players and RFAs:

A. Kostitsyn



The RFAs are in red. Other threats to make the team are A. Kostitsyn, Latendresse, and Chipchura.


So. Pronger is a Duck, and Oil fans are not exactly Smidden with what Lowe got in return. I'll have to agree that Brian Burke is looking pretty good right now. Niedermayer and Pronger? Wow. That has to be the best top-2 we've seen since Pronger/MacInnis.


When I read that Bouillon signed for 3 years at $1.875M, I was shocked.

Then we saw Brian Pothier sign for 4 years at $2.5M. And Frank Kaberle for $2.2M. Hal Gill for $2.1M. Yes, *that* Hal Gill - the guy that moves like an 800lb grizzly bear. Wait... grizzlies are deceptively fast. He moves more like a grizzly that has been hit with a tranquilizer dart, but hasn't thrown in the towel just yet.

Needless to say, there have been changes in the marketplace since Dandenault's 4-year, $6.85M deal. Bouillon's contract is the most level-headed one signed this week (possibly excepting Zyuzin for 2 at $2.8M - that's looking good on Sutter).

And after seeing the Gerber and Roloson numbers, maybe Huet's money isn't so bad after all.


We're in for another Nor'easter.

Boston is starting to scare me. Sure, they overpaid for Marc Savard but they can carry that burden as long as Patrice Bergeron continues to be criminally underpaid. I have visions of Bergeron/Boyes drawing penalties and Savard/Murray stepping in to capitalize on the PP. Now with an extra $5M to spend, the Leafs can't be worse than last year, can they? The Sens appear to have stepped back, but they could afford to. Same for the Sabres. It looks like the NE will be a tough place for Montreal to earn a playoff berth.


Gainey should have overpaid Andre Savard to keep him with the team. With the cap on player salaries, teams should be willing to pay over the top for front office talent when they can afford to. Andre Savard signed some bad contracts as GM of the Habs, but over his career he has been gold at the draft. It would be worthwhile to keep him on board just for that.