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What We Learned: Elegy for Joffrey Lupul’s views on advanced hockey stats

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

There were few winners in the free agency period that began midday Friday, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were not included among them. As you might expect.

They're famously a poorly-run team, pretty much regardless of who's actually doing the running. John Ferguson, Jr., Brian Burke, and now Dave Nonis seem to have suffered, to varying degrees, from what we'll call Terry Pegula Disease: The financial ability to sign almost whomever they'd like leading to their dramatically overpaying just about anyone who comes through the door.

For example, to list of all the players to whom they have given big-money, long-term contracts in the last several years is to dig up some real head-scratchers.

Bryan McCabe got one such contract (five years, $28.75 million). So did Jason Blake (five years $20 million). And Mike Komisarek (five years, $22.5 million) and Mikhail Grabovski (five years, $27.5 million). Now you can add Tyler Bozak (five years, $22 million) and David Clarkson (seven years, $36.75 million) to the list of dramatically overpaid Toronto players – universally recognized as such the second their deals were signed.

The moves were widely criticized in the media; outside the non-Bruce Arthur, Randian objectivism on TSN's coverage, which stated almost across the board that everyone getting the absurd deals players tended to receive on Friday came only because they were worth it and good signings, and not because the NHL's GMs had collectively gone mad.

Often, those criticisms had little to do with points, and more to do with the fact that Bozak is a Corsi black hole and Clarkson, while a decent driver of possession, is extremely overrated as a points-producer as a result of one good season and because he brings "grit" to his team's lineup.
Enter Joffrey Lupul, who saw the flak his renewed/new teammates were catching with respect to whether they can help his team win, and decided things needed to be cleared up.

Sayeth Lupul [consider all mistakes sic in advance on both the first and second tweets]: "contracts aren't awarded by this CORSI i am hearing all about. They are awarded for an equal value of skill and depth (at a certain position … If you bring certain attributes and you play to win. I'll take you on my team 7 nights a week. Lets not look at this like Moneyball."

This is a problem for a few reasons.

The first is that "Corsi" is not an acronym. The second is the ongoing conflation of "advanced" statistics (insofar as just tracking something as simple as shot attempts and shooting percentage is "advanced") with “Moneyball,” a book that came out a decade ago and was about a low-budget baseball team exploited market inefficiencies to be competitive with spending-machine giants over the course of a 162-game season.

"Corsi" — the simple measure of shot attempts for and against at even strength — is largely not a market inefficiency in 2013.

A considerable percentage of teams league-wide, difficult though it may be to nail down an exact number, now use Corsi or some version of it to evaluate their own players, those on other teams and even prospects in junior leagues.

Some GMs and coaches have openly talked about these statistics, and it's important to keep in mind that just because a player or team or beat writer or fan doesn't understand something, doesn't mean no one else does. While you can't expect Joffrey Lupul to pour over Behind the Net after every game, you have to believe that most NHL clubs have someone doing it for them, and generating reports that can be used to inform lineup and personnel decisions.

The Maple Leafs appear to be one of the few teams to not do so.

The third issue that indicates what Lupul said is kind of dumb is that the Maple Leafs used the opposite of the “Moneyball” idea in making the decisions to re-sign Bozak and bring in Clarkson.

That, I suppose, is his point, but the fact remains that the Maple Leafs splashing the cash on every free agent in which they have interest is not the best business practice in a salary cap world; especially one in which the cap is declining for the first time ever and despite the fact that it will balloon again next summer.

Lupul's assertion that all he cares about is effort is probably the best you can expect from a professional hockey player, but saying that contracts are awarded with relation to skill is irksome. It's not as if the ability to out-possess one's opponent were not a demonstrable, repeatable, valuable skill. Nonis paid for the opposite: "chemistry" and "grit" and the hope that Clarkson starts producing more than 40 points a season every year despite his only ever having done it once in five full NHL seasons, and only then when shooting about one and a half times better than his career percentage.

The thing is, Clarkson and Bozak and the rest of the Leafs acquisitions this summer can "play to win" all they like, but statistics, which Lupul again has no reason to really understand, dictate that the effort will likely be for naught. The team will probably suffer more, not less, as a result of these signings. Their chances for a second straight playoff appearance are constrained already this year, thanks in large part to the Flortheast Division being probably the best in hockey and Detroit and Ottawa improving already this summer.

Top three teams make the postseason for sure; is Toronto better than those two and the Bruins? The answer is "obviously not." So then they're left to fight it out with the other teams in both their division and the PatrickPlus, which will likewise not go well for them.

They could get lucky, but they were already a little lucky to sneak in last year, and that's probably enough to convince the rational observer that their postseason hopes are probably DOA this year at least, if not for a few more years, on average. The Leafs will continue to be middling, and probably not one of the top eight teams in the conference, which isn't conducive to playoff appearances under the coming format. Period.

Simply put, Nonis is running the Maple Leafs with methods running counter to those that make a team successful. Randy Carlyle is coaching it more poorly than that. They've gone out and actively made themselves worse, not better, with these cement-shoe contracts, but at least they got the headlines. Making decisions on gut and feel and "the eye test" and further borderline-mystical factors has repeatedly proven unwise in baseball, where the modern "statistical revolution" began. It is starting to do so in hockey as well.

There's a reason only a few teams in either league don't buy the ever-growing preponderance of evidence at this point.

"Let's not look at this like Moneyball."

That's spoken like a true Maple Leaf.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: I love the Bobby Ryan trade for the Ducks. It doesn't help them right now, though they probably think they're set for a while after that second-in-the-West finish. They're not. However, Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen are strong prospects (added to an already-deep pool) that will make the Ducks much better in a few years.

Boston Bruins: Hey you! Get out of here with this logic! This is a great signing and all the result of Iginla realizing the Bruins AH FUH REAL.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have apparently reacquired Henrik Tallinder because they think it's going to make Tyler Myers good again. What a team.

Calgary Flames: Speaking of well-run organizations, when Jay Feaster is only making "minor" moves, I think that's a good thing. History has shown that his larger ones tend to go about as well as the Flames' coming season will. Which is to say not well at all.

Carolina Hurricanes: Counting on Mike Komisarek to be a solid contributor on the blue line seems like very risky business, but then this is Carolina we're talking about, so he's probably a significant upgrade from the damp sponge they were giving 12 minutes a night last season.

Chicago Blackhawks: Joel Quenneville took the Stanley Cup to Wrigley and threw out the first pitch, then Jim Cornelison sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Meanwhile the Cubs fans paid tribute to Patrick Kane by puking in the bleachers.

Colorado Avalanche: Will drafting Nathan MacKinnon push Paul Stastny out of town? Well, stranger things have happened I guess, but counting on an 18-year-old to displace a perfectly serviceable NHL veteran center seems like a Bad Idea.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets as a cap-ceiling team. What a time to be alive.

Dallas Stars: That loud noise from about 2,000 miles northeast of Dallas late Saturday night was Peter Chiarelli giggling himself half to death.

Detroit Red Wings (alas, no longer Presented by Amway): I know Danny Cleary has been a Red Wing since time out of mind but when reports show Damien Brunner was asking for something like three years at $3.5 million per and you say, "Too rich for my blood," but then give a 34-year old with no knees to speak of $900,000 less per year than that for the same term, you're making a bad and awful decision.

Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Jones re-signed with Edmonton and they now have an NHL record one trillion third-line forwards on that team.

Florida Panthers: Wondering why the Panthers didn't re-sign Stephen Weiss, are you? Here's Dale Tallon: "We have a budget, and we have a budget we have to stick with. That's what the mandate is. It's all in the budget. So, that's what we're doing." Must be fun to be a GM for a team like that, especially if you're significantly overpaying Ed Jovanovski.

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Los Angeles Kings: Starting to seem less and less likely that two-time Stanley Cup Champion Dustin Penner isn't generating much interest out there. But so much leadership! There's so much of it when you win a Cup. You're always so good in the room, automatically.

Minnesota Wild: Mikael Granlund centering the Wild's second line now that Matt Cullen is gone is pretty much the definition of addition by subtraction. Granlund is awesome.

Montreal Canadiens: "We want Brandon Prust to fight less…" Boy that's a good idea, Marc Bergevin. "…so we acquired George Parros to do it instead." No wait!!!!

Nashville Predators: Since the offseason began, the Predators have added American Hero Seth Jones, and five NCAA players including a backup goalie who went to UMass Lowell. I love this team. Preds forever.
New Jersey Devils: I swear that Ryane Clowe contract might be one of the worst since the 2004-05 lockout. No speed, three concussions in the last year and a half, 30 years old, coming off a three-goal season? Here's five years and almost $5 million per. Prove doubters wrong? Prove logic wrong.

New York Islanders: The Islanders signed maybe the only good ultra-long-term deal of the summer so far, in giving 22-year-old Travis Hamonic seven years. It's really only smart because he's 22 and improving, rather than 30 and not, but you gotta start somewhere.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are close to an extension with Ryan McDonagh, which would instantly become the smartest signing they could make this summer.

Ottawa Senators: Obviously the loss of Daniel Alfredsson to a division rival is symbolically devastating but the team is better on paper now, with the additions of Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan, than it was at the start of last year. That's the real goal here, is it not?

Philadelphia Flyers: "Vincent Lecavalier expects a great season with the Flyers." Well, I wouldn't go pinning your hopes on it, bud.

Phoenix Coyotes: There are approximately 1,810 days until the Coyotes can leave Glendale. And now their fans have to pay more to go see a team they don't want to watch in the first place. Oh, but here's the money quote: "In fact, Coyotes fans have shown that they are among the most devoted in the NHL and perhaps all of professional sports." That was the reporter saying this. Not their new owner, not a team executive. The reporter. The article is amazing though. That's the Lock of the Week Thing You Should Read.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins added a defenseman to shore up their hemorrhaging blue line. What's next? Trading a defenseman. Wow!

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are very wisely going to keep Brent Burns at forward next season. He really played well there. No-brainer.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues recently gave Derek Roy $4 million for some reason and now have to figure out a way to get Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart and Jake Allen signed for less than $8 million. How will they convince Stewart and Allen to take below league minimum?

Tampa Bay Lightning: That's seriously so much money for Valtteri Filppula.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf got married over the weekend and you really have to think this will be one of those celebrity marriages with a Happy Ending. Okay that's a good joke, guys.

Vancouver Canucks: Iain MacIntyre is right - The only way to win at free agency this year was to not play.

Washington Capitals: Counterargument to that, though, is in Washington, where the Caps have gotten worse through attrition and will now find it far more difficult to make the playoffs.

Winnipeg Jets: Will Devin Setoguchi's no-problem 20 goals this season mean he Plays The Right Way or He's Not Living Up To His Potential? Only the Winnipeg media knows for sure.

Gold Star Award

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You gotta give all the shout outs in the world to David Clarkson's agent. He saw that rube on the midway from quite a distance.

Minus of the Weekend

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On the other hand, I really don't envy Clarkson having to live up to that deal when he's 33 and still has three years to go on it. They're going to throw garbage at him in the streets.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "jeromeo87" really wants to shake things up for the Hurricanes.

To Winnipeg:
Murphy, Dalpe/or Nash, 2nd
To Carolina:
Byfuglien

To Edmonton:
Ruutu, 3rd
To Carolina:
Hemsky

To New York:
McBain
To Carolina:
Boyle

Signoff

I expected better from someone who doesn't have any extracurricular activities.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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