The case: Defensive Defensemen

Here’s a controversial opinion; turns out Willie Mitchell might be just as valuable to a team as Ilya Kovalchuk, however since what he does isn’t pretty or manifests itself in statistics it is a sacrilege to suggest this. You can expand this in general to wingers with little impact on the game when they’re not scoring (there are worse examples than Kovalchuk) vs shutdown defensemen who can make a first pass and aren’t boneheaded with the puck on their stick but don’t put a lot of points on board.

Since the part of the game that these type of wingers are really good at often results in either pretty dangles and/or points it is human nature to assume they have a bigger impact on the game as whole than they really do. A successful dangle or a quick look at statistics is very easy to notice, dangling when you have a better option open or not using your linemates as well as you could, not engaging or losing puck battles, poor positioning or lazy backchecking are often very subtle and forgivable, when you just went through 2 guys (even if the end result is a turnover, a poor or a blocked shot or something else). This often leads to inflated contracts for these type of forwards.The defensive defenseman is basically the opposite of this. The part of the game they are good at doesn’t really manifests itself well in statistics nor is the game they play pretty to watch or marvel at the technical skills like stickhandling, obscene shots etc.. I believe in general their contracts represent their value more accurately (though I wouldn’t lose any sleep if a guy like Mitchell made 5 million instead of 3.5 which is probably below his actual value), however I think there is still some room for improvement in establishing who the best defensive D-men are when comparing them between each-other.

It’s pretty easy to say a statement like – this guy is a 30 goal scorer and justify 6 million per year without having to worry about being crucified despite the lack of his overall game (even if he bombs later), but there is nothing to hide behind when you’re shelling out the money for a defensive-defenseman, it’s only your opinion as to what he contributes to a team, no stats (although there has been progress in the advanced stats community) to base the value on, I do believe the GMs are much more conservative in handing out the money to the defensive D-men for this reason compared to goal scoring wingers.. For that reason I think defensive-defensemen on average receive contracts closer to their value than the goal-scoring type of wingers mentioned above do (Heatley, Kovalchuk, Semin, Kessel etc. well the Kessel contract isn’t that bad).
by N [via puckstorming.com]

Are the Vancouver Canucks just.. unlucky?

Thinking about past seasons, there is little doubt that the Vancouver Canucks are one of the best regular season teams. They went up till the Stanley Cup finals in the 2010-2011 season and came within a game of winning it all, eventually losing to the Boston Bruins in game 7. The Canucks are far from being a poorly managed team, and that being said; what is it that makes them constantly falling short, despite being so successful during the year? Were they just not lucky enough? 
The latter is, in hockey, as in any other sport, quite possible. Furthermore the games tend to sometimes come down to bounces and puck luck, over the long-term that luck tends to even out however when you’re in a short format competition in the style of NHL playoffs a couple of bounces or injuries going your way or the other can make a world of difference.
In addition – in the salary cap era it is near impossible to stack teams the way you could when spending wasn’t limited (think of the pre-lockout Detroit and Colorado teams) and even then, luck always played a role. It is safe to say it is impossible in the present day to build a Stanley Cup winner, you can only build a Stanley Cup contender and hope that the team goes all the way in one (or more) of the years.
While, the luck-theory above is entirely possible, and the Canucks might just did not have the bounces go their way, I prefer to play the devil’s advocate and assume the following –  the team just wasn’t/isn’t good enough! 
The below picture is taken from: players usage chart.
The higher the player is on the y-axis the tougher competition he plays against, the further right on the x-axis the more of his shifts start in the offensive zone.
Pay attention to the Sedins and Malhotra! What you notice is that the Sedins didn’t quite get the toughest minutes on the team in the form of quality of competition, but what’s especially interesting is the fact that the Sedins started nearly 80% of their shifts in the offensive zone while Malhotra took barely any at all. In 2011-2012 season there was no other team with such extreme zone-specific player deployment. In fact this has been a staple of the Canucks for years.
Scott Cullen’s take on this is:
“That doesn’t mean they are incapable of starting in the defensive zone or facing more difficult competition, but head coach Alain Vigneault is putting them in the best position to be successful and there is little evidence that it would be better for the Canucks to have the Sedins doing more heavy lifting while giving Malhotra, Lapierre or Pahlsson more offensive zone starts.”
The bolded part that I find particularly interesting. While that kind of player usage has clearly worked for the Canucks in the regular season, the bolded makes me question whether it is the Sedins that can’t handle a more all-around role or is it the supporting cast in question that can’t handle anything more than a shutdown role? To elaborate, if we believe the Canucks regular season record is indicative of their talent level as one of the best if not the best teams in the league, then why are they afraid of playing power vs power matchups all over the ice instead of using this kind of specialization? Surely the better team would come out ahead in such a match-up? Why not try the old hockey cliché of outplaying the guy on the other team, meaning let Henrik Sedin outplay Kopitar/Toews/Datsyuk/etc. on the whole ice, and so on down throughout the lineup line-by-line. Surely that is a reasonable proposition if you have confidence in the Canucks being the best team in the league as their regular season record suggested over the last couple of years?
Unless you’re trying to hide something behind the specialization? Maybe Henrik Sedin isn’t as good of an all around player as a guy like Kopitar or Toews is? Or maybe the Canucks supporting cast isn’t as good as the supporting cast of Chicago or LA? If that’s the reason, then it might be time to re-evaluate whether the Canucks truly are the best of the West and what to do to fix it. Why not give Henrik Sedin the opportunity to match up against the West’s best centers on the whole ice without being sheltered, and so on down throughout the lineup? I can hardly think of a better motivational tool than the idea of outplaying the guy playing the same role on the other team in every facet of the game. If the Canucks are truly as good as their record indicated in the last couple of years, they should come out ahead more often than not. If they aren’t, this approach will at least expose the holes instead of hiding them behind specialization.
To be fair to the Canucks while they still employ the same type of player usage this year, their numbers seem to have normalized a little bit. Henrik Sedin now starts 69% percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and Maxim Lapierre took over the Malhotra role with only 25% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. The Sedins also rank a bit higher relative to the team in the quality of competition they are facing than they did in past years. That said the approach is still the same if a bit more mild. The Canucks also added Derek Roy, with Sedin/Kesler (if healthy)/Roy down the middle that should make them even more comfortable in taking the power vs power approach if they so desire.
Photo0229
While it is entirely possible the Canucks simply didn’t have enough bounces go their way to win the Cup so far (it is hard after all to criticize a team that came within a game of winning it all as recently as the Canucks did), a different approach might help illuminate the issues if there are any or maybe even prove fruitful enough to finally win that Cup.
by N.

Chicago BEARS and the NFC

Teams heading into the Draft, we asked ourselves where do we see Chicago Bears standing the NFC right now?

I remember the day, last season, when Minnesota Vikings knocked Chicago Bears out of the postseason.. and first thing to mention here is that the NFC North was, and still looks like, one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, with the Green Bay Packers on the top.

The Bears kind of remind me of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL. While they had a 10-6 record – WHAT IS UP WITH THE POSTSEASON?

Chicago has made some tactical moves, which seem rather promising. They acquired a new head coach, but were unable to sign B. Urlacher; a franchise icon (which will need adjustment). What they (still) lack and what is a big disadvantage is somewhat limited offensive power and a lot of pressure being put on their quarterback Jay Cutler. While the Green Bay Packers have a better chance at being on top of Chicago, the Bears are better than the Minnesota Vikings.

However, what these two teams have is the talent Minnesota and Detroit can bring through draft. It’s yet unknown what impact Reggie Bush (for Lions) will have; he will certainly bring a dimension on offense, though their defense remains questionable. In addition, the Lions have been struggling with keeping the teams’ mentality together.

The Bears stand second in their division, but what does that mean? Anything less than 11 wins will be a disappointing year for the Bears.

by L. [.. to be continued]

SPORTS TOP of the Week

It’s been exactly a week since we launched our (mini) blog and we couldn’t be happier with the response (although there is always room for improvement). I’m introducing SPORTS TOP of the Week, meaning each week (on Sundays) I’ll be posting several memorable moments from different leagues, that happened during the week. My picks are following:

1.) Drew Doughty (LA Kings) score

LA Kings played Chicago Blackhaws in Chicago earlier this week, and while for most Hawks fans this was a (certain) win, Kings made some pretty amazing plays and ended up winning it 5-4. Drew Doughty, whom we are used to seeing in a more defensive position this year, made an amazing play against 5 of Chicago players.

Now, this is a world class play as we like to call it!

2.) Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers) hat trick

Being an Oilers fan myself, I could not have enjoyed this one better. Taylor Hall with a hat trick in first 2min40secs of the game in Edmonton against the Vancouver Canucks. Is that the fastest hat trick in the history of the NHL or what?

3.) Jerome Ignila trade aka “Twitter just got owned!”

I believe several people went to sleep that night thinking Ignila was a Bruin, only to wake up to the fact he was a Penguin. And that’s why kids, as LA Kings would tweet, a rumor is a rumor! And, I cannot agree with this more. Several sports stations should stop making statements starting with: “I heard it from my *secret* source…..” NO! If you have a source, please share it. Nobody will get mad, I promise.

4.) NCAA basketball Duke @ Louisville; Kevin Ware injury

Several injuries occurred this week, however this was probably the most horrifying injury I’ve ever seen in a basketball game. I’ll not post a video of it because we all believe for privacy/minor concerns. Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered what looked like a broken bone in his lower right leg (if you watched the game you might have seen his leg falling apart; which looked like his knee got dislocated), while attempting to defend a three-pont shot by Duke guard Tyler Thronton. You just don’t expect such an injury to happen in a basketball game. Our prayers go out to Kevin, and we wish him good recovery.

5.) MLB openers; pretty much self-explanatory.

See you next week, kiddoz! xx Issis

The young Oilers: PART 2

This is the second part of an ongoing column about the Edmonton Oilers and their current state of the franchise.

To briefly summarize the first part of the commentary; I focused on explaining the Oilers’ current state and their draft picks in recent years. This second part focuses on the Western Conference, what Oilers lack to be succesfull in 2012/2013 season, and examines the environment of the franchise.

hall

The Western Conference as  compared to its Eastern counterpart is thought of as the grittier, bigger, tougher conference. It doesn’t take long to figure out the Edmonton Oilers in their current state continue to struggle at elements like engaging and winning puck battles, boardwork, clearing the front of the net and puck possession, it is a team that is frankly outmatched both in terms of compete level and size. If it looks to you like man against boys out there, well that’s because it is. You might say, well the team is rebuilding, they’re just kids. And you’d be right to a degree, until you look at the fact that the only core player capable of excelling at the type of game played in the Western Conference is Taylor Hall, now I’m not claiming you need to have your entire team filled with those type of players, but that is a serious deficiency when compared to the top teams in the conference.

rnh

Now, let’s take a look at the type of environment the Oilers management provided their youngsters with.

In my opinion there was a clear lack of culture and identity in the organization. I did not see a pattern emerge as to what type of identity the team wants to establish (the latest succesful rebuild – the Los Angeles Kings had even from the beginning a very clear vision of a big gritty team set on outcompeting the opposition), the closest I can think of is a skill team, although I wonder if that is not simply as a result of the infusion of talent via lottery  picks rather than a set philosophy. It seems like the team has finally realized it needs to become tougher to play against (the Fistric addition for example), but the whole thing comes off as terribly reactionary instead of proactive in establishing an identity. A better job could and should have been done in providing an environment that lends itself to a winning culture and proper nurturing of it’s highly touted youngsters.

To finish it off, it is clear the Edmonton Oilers will improve as a simple function of all the talent infusion through the draft and lottery picks, but the question remains just how far can they go, is the management doing the best job in nurturing and providing the type of environment and supporting cast needed for a future contender or a Stanley Cup winner? Is there a winning culture and a clear identity being built or is this team just a collection of players, assets with no clear direction? Did the current management team show enough for you to trust them to lead the Oilers to the status of a perennial contender?

I have not seen enough of a clear direction in terms of establishing an identity conducive to winning, in terms of providing the right environment and supporting cast for the youngsters, and in terms of building the correct team composition to lead me to think that is the case. Lastly even in the event some of the highly touted pieces have to be moved, maybe one of the highly touted wingers to bring in a defenseman or a center or a goalie, have you seen enough quality work from the current management group and GM Steve Tambellini to believe they will make the right choices? There is lots of work to be done before the Edmonton Oilers can climb to the upper echelon of the NHL.

by N. [to be continued]

Canucks @ LA Kings (March 23rd) – Friends with the enemy

Beer. Hockey. Yam fries. Girls. That’s what it’s called a great Saturday in Canada – eh? While this post may be a bit delayed (we did not launch until Sunday night duh), it’s still valuable, because …. read on!

canuckskings1

Yes, you guessed right; I am friends with the enemy! While this may be harsh at times (*cough* last years’ playoffs *cough*), the two (let’s face it!) biased views often give a fairly good perspective of what the reality is.

The game could easily be titled “I know what you did last night…” – we’ve all been (at least once hihi) in a situation where being young and succesful in Hollywood is a difficult thing. If it wasn’t for slow pucks, sloppy passes, and a bit of a too much rugby action in front of each of the nets, we wouldn’t be in doubt whether or not each of these teams had fun last night.

Vancouver Canucks did end up winning the game (1-0), having only 2 shots on goal in the 2nd period is definitely something that is concerning; especially because the occurrence seems to be fairly consistent. Canucks beat LA Kings because they were able to move the puck quickly during the first period. Charlotte V. and I discussed the Canucks – Kings dynamics and what potentially each team should improve.

At the moment Canucks are division leaders, on the 3rd spot in the Western Conference with 40 points, and +2 goal differential. LA Kings on the other hand sport a +12 goal differential, 36 points and sit on the 6th spot in the Western Conference.

The fact is what Canucks lack, LA Kings (almost?) have and this is powerful centers such as A. Kopitar and M. Richards. Kopitar was voted the most valuable player during the first period, while our MVP award goes to Schneider (Canucks), Schroeder (Canucks), and Quick (Kings). Canucks were able to somewhat limit the Kings entering their zone, however they performed poorly on creating scoring chances. In my opinion, way too few words are said about Schroeder who consistently seems to perform well, and more often than not is able to create such chances.  Kings on the other hand, had difficulties keeping Canucks on the edge and while they did a better job shooting on the net and taking advantage of Canucks sloppy PP (2 shorthanded opportunities), they did not end up with any flashing scores. I call for Toffoli back in action!

It’s no secret that Kings are having a hard time adjusting to the D-men deficit; with Green and Mitchell both being injured. Doughty, who was initially recruited to score, overall actually does a stellar job on a more defensive play. On the downside, we’re not really seeing what we would like from Penner and Stoll. On the Canucks side; TOP miss goes to Lapierre being a fast skater and all, but seems physically afraid of the puck and Charlotte being particularly upset with, in her own words: “Burrows idiotic choice to get a penalty with 0.6sec left.. in the wrong zone!”

Hey crazy thought; let’s split up the Sedins, and get Kassian, Tanev and Schroeder more time? Really mixing up the line-ups is something that Kings coach D.Sutter appears to really advocate, maybe A. Vigneault should think about it?

by L. [to be continued]

Rugby with a South Africa native.. (UBC @ Cal Berkeley)

It was a sunny day in Southern Canada (haha; I bet everyone expected me to say Southern California) and 1/4 of SBC team headed to a rugby match at UBC (UBC Tbirts @  University of California Golden Bears). The Bears being undefeated this season, the unfortunate outcome (6 – 38 for Cal) did not come as a big shocker. I don’t know whether it was the rugby, the sun, the cider I had, or the company that made the game still very enjoyable.

It started with GO TBIRDS!

UBC

While rugby is relatively popular in Canada, it’s by no means as popular as in England, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. I was lucky enough to meet a South Africa native, who took me to the game and spoke a little bit about this fairly – to me – yet not well-known sport.

UBC.robyn

Robyn E. grew up in South Africa, with a family who was really big on rugby and consequentially developed love and passion for this sport. It’s fair to say that this was one of my very first rugby games I’ve seen live, and not knowing much about didn’t prevent me to see that UBC Tbirts were falling short in almost every aspect of the game. Robyn agreed that TOP moment of the game was definitely seeing UBC setting up different plays, which suggested there was a lot of potential there, however they were unfortunately not being able to execute them well, which gave Bears a big advantage. In addition, UBC was not good at utilizing their lines, and trying to rush too much against a team that was physically bigger.

rugby

The MVP of the game was without a doubt UBCs Fly Half n’9 who was great at leading the team and pre-seeing needed plays. Even if I got asked a few times if I was there for the boys (I kept wondering if I really looked that much out-of-place(?)), the event and the atmosphere at the match itself was – in my opinion – well executed. We had a chance to meet some of the Alumni, who were in great spirit to support their University team and did not leave early despite the outcome (dudes that left early – be ashamed!). Needless to say it was a beautiful day for college sports.

baseball

“MORE RUGBY” people scream! Yes, sorry for my awesome afternoon in so many(?) details. Robyn describes South African rugby with three words only; raucous, pride and, tradition. She thinks it’d be rather difficult for any Canadian to adapt in such a culture where you need to embody a dangerous spirit, and though mind of the rugby culture. There is no surprise that one of the best rugby matches to watch would be South Africa Springboks @ New Zealand All Blacks (let’s forget how they destroyed Canada last year *tears*). However, let’s not forget about Victoria, BC decent rugby culture. We both agreed we should continue my rugby journey and see some Velox (which supposedly attracts many expats) matches in the near future.

by L. [to be continued]