Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lidstrom's Retirement: A Fan's Perspective



I’ll admit it. I didn’t used to get it either. What fun was there in no flash? What entertainment value was there in perfection? None. So what was there? Just resolute greatness, a form of excellence so incomprehensible that it took ten years for the rest of the league, and many Detroit faithful, to recognize.  

When the Wings won their 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cups I was in elementary school. Sergei Fedorov was my favorite player. He was an offensive dynamo and had the aura of a superstar, which is the kind of stuff that appeals to a kid just trying to figure out what “cool” is. By the time 2002 rolled around I was in middle school, but still just as focused on this “cool” thing. Dominik Hasek had the kind of flash and substance that I found instantly appealing, and I soon had a new favorite player. It wasn’t until 2008 that I started to recognize the brilliance of Nick Lidstrom.

Sure, I’d watched him for years. He was always a player I liked, but was never my favorite. The older me did some growing up and, no longer fixated on showmanship and pizazz, began to understand what understated brilliance meant and that that, not theatrics, was what truly defined “cool.”

Since 2008 I’ve watched Lidstrom with slack-jawed awe, truly amazed at what a player of his caliber can do. Last summer I started a project for this blog in which I rewatched all of the 2008 Cup Finals and charted each of his shifts. I never got around to publishing it because it just wasn’t that interesting. He didn’t make mistakes. Ever. I only know so many adjectives to describe Lidstrom’s play, and my post sounded like a broken record.

I got to meet Nick a couple of weeks ago, and he couldn't have been nicer. Rarely do we meet our idols and not get let down, but Nick Lidstrom operates in rarefied air across all domains. I've learned so much about hockey from watching him, but it's his off-ice poise that I truly admire and attempt to emulate. 

I’m glad I found the time to appreciate Lidstrom’s career before he hung up his skates for good. It’s been more than a pleasure; it’s been an honor to watch the player whom, in my opinion, is the greatest defenseman of all time ply his trade for my favorite team. What he’s done for the game and for the organization can only be matched by some of the most illustrious names in the history of the sport, and for that I extend my thanks.

The Red Wings lost more than just another defenseman today. They lost the foundation that their defense has been built on for two decades, a player who is unquestionably one of the top three to ever play his position. Thank you for four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophys, one Conn Smythe, and 20 seasons of perfection.

Like it? Hate it? Let me know (and follow me) on Twitter @TOGBlog1 or by email at theoctopigarden@gmail.com

Photo credit EPA/Jeff Kowalski

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Well Equipped: A Saturday at Hockeytown Authentics

Game used equipment nerds like myself are always up for a good equipment sale, and the Red Wings' 2012 incarnation did not disappoint. Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer was on hand to answer questions, and he brought quite the haul with him. Aside from the gold standard of game used equipment (jerseys), there were skates, sticks, helmets, gloves and pant shells available. I made the trek to Troy and documented some of my visit in pictures.

 For those of you who haven't been there, Hockeytown Authentics is a haven of merchandise of the two Ilitch owned teams. Two old Easton hockey sticks form the door handles, as they have for at least the past ten years. "Hi, I'm Budd Lynch. Welcome to Hockeytown" greets you as you cross the threshold. Yes, there may be an olde english D on the front, but this is a Red Wings store first and foremost. Don't believe me? Look up. The rafters of Hockeytown Authentics are painted the same ugly blue as the rafters at Joe Louis Arena. There can't be many stores like this in NHL cities across North America.

One of the first sections I hit this year was the skate table. I didn't see any of the skates from the big three, but there were many pairs from guys like Drew Miller and Dan Cleary.

During most of the year there is one stick rack at the center of the store. Not so during the equipment sale. This year there were four, and these four racks may have been the most popular part of the sale. The red Warrior's on the left are all Henrik Zetterberg's. He had 1 24 Beast printed on the back, a tribute to fallen Red Wings Stefan Liv, Ruslan Salei and Brad McCrimmon. Other sticks in the photo belonged to Kronwall, Bertuzzi, and Filppula. Further down were a number of Conklin and Pearce sticks. Obviously not the most popular players, but goalie sticks are a rarity at the sale.

From here, I looped back to the front of the store to check out the game used jerseys. They had home and road regular season sets 1 and 2, which had the tribute patch to McCrimmon, Salei, and Liv. The playoff set (home and road) was also on hand. Below is the captain's C from Nick Lidstrom's home set 1 sweater.

Tag stitched into the hem of each game worn jersey. This one if from the Lidstrom pictured above.

I moved over to the playoff jerseys after this. None had a ton of wear, which isn't a surprise considering the Wings' early exit. The Zetterberg below looks like I Instagramed it, but in reality I'm just not a good photographer and probably had the flash on or something.

Another from the home playoff set, this time of TPH


Gud f√∂rbjude, but if Lidstrom retires this will be the captain's C from the last sweater he ever wore at Joe Louis Arena.


Remember earlier in the post when I mentioned that Paul Boyer was on hand to answer questions? Check back frequently. I've got something cool in the works.

Like it? Hate it? Let me know (and follow me) on Twitter @TOGBlog1 or by email at theoctopigarden@gmail.com


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Free Agent Forecasting: Ryan Suter

Hmm...Interesting Combination
Cris Bournocle, AFP/Getty Images

The Wings need another defenseman. Ryan Suter just happens to be a defenseman. Reputation and hyperbole tell us that Suter's a good one too. Should and could the Wings sign him, and for how much?

Read on to find out.

Statistical Breakdown


Basic Stats


  • Suter played in 79 games this season, and his average ice time was 26:30. He had 7 goals and 38 assists for a total of 46 points. Had 3 powerplay goals and 1 shorthanded goal. Took 134 shots. 
  • Only accrued 30 penalty minutes. Had 46 hits. Blocked 116 shots. His 42 giveaways weren't quite offset by 37 takeaways.
  • Of note: 54.4% of his points came on the powerplay
Advanced Stats

  • Suter's even strength relative Corsi Quality of Competition is 1.262. To compare, let's look at the Norris Trophy candidates and the gold standard for modern defensemen, Nick Lidstrom. Suter's teammate Shea Weber drew slightly tougher assignments (1.332), while Zdeno Chara (1.015) and Erik Karlsson (0.675) faced weaker competition. The defensemen drawing the toughest assignments of the bunch was Nick Lidstrom (1.441), whose relative Corsi QoC ranked seventh in the league. 
  • Suter's on-ice Corsi rating was bad, and yet it was still the second best on the Predators. This is indicative of Nashville's propensity to be outshot by the opposition on a regular basis. Suter checked in at -2.98, while Shea Weber was -0.90. Erik Karlsson (12.68),  Nick Lidstrom (15.24), and Zdeno Chara (17.54) all increased their team's shot totals while on the ice compared to when they were on the bench. The glass-half-full way to look at this is that Nashville only allowed three more shots than they took while Suter was on the ice, which is good relative to current teammates like Kevin Klein (-11.96) and Roman Josi (-15.23).
  • At even strength, Suter averaged 0.12 goals, 0.19 first assists, and 0.43 second assists per 60 minutes played. This averages out to 0.74 points per 60 minutes of 5v5 time. By comparison,Weber (0.27, 0.39, 0.23 for 0.90), Karlsson (0.60, 0.60, 0.52 for 1.72), Chara (0.16, 0.44, 0.64 for 1.24), and Lidstrom (0.34, 0.15, 0.29 for 0.78) all averaged more points per 60 minutes. Suter has only one area where he's stronger than the comparison subjects, and that's second assists. Even here, he only ranks higher than Weber and Lidstrom.
  • Suter isn't going to outscore his cohort (at least at even strength), so defensive metrics need to be looked at if we're going to get a fuller picture of his true value. +/- On-Ice/60 and +/- Off-Ice/60 can help here. The first looks at the average goals for per 60 minutes of even strength ice time and subtracts average goals against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time from it. The latter does the same for the team when a player is off the ice. Suter's +/- On-Ice/60 was 0.50 and his +/- Off-Ice/60 was -0.05, with a gap between the two of 0.55. Weber's presence had a greater impact on Nashville's scoring than Suter's, as evidenced by his +/- On-Ice/60 of 0.70 and his  +/- Off-Ice/60 of -0.15, for a gap of 0.85. Karlsson appears to have the greatest impact on his team's performance (0.82, -0.24, gap of 1.06), followed by Chara (1.04, 0.38, gap of 0.66) and Lidstrom (1.07, 0.77, gap of 0.30).
  • As mentioned above, the majority of Suter's points this season came on the powerplay. His average powerplay ice time was 3.60 minutes. Averaging across all minutes played, Suter averaged 0.42 goals, 2.32 first assists, 1.69 second assists and 4.44 points per 60 minutes. Teammate Shea Weber averaged nearly the same points/60 (4.47), though in a very different way (2.01 goals, 1.56 first assists, 0.89 second assists, all per 60 minutes played) and in slightly less time (3.44 minutes/60). Zdeno Chara was particularly efficient with his 2.49 minutes per 60, averaging 2.44 goals, 1.83 first assists, 1.22 second assists, and 5.48 points per 60. On the other side of the coin we have Erik Karlsson, who averaged a surprisingly low 0.61 goals, 2.83 first assists, 1.01 second assists, and 4.44 points in 3.67 minutes per 60 played. Lidstrom averaged 0.98 goals, 1.47 first assists, 1.22 second assists, and 3.67 points in 3.50 minutes/60.
  • Suter averaged 2.26 minutes/60 on the penalty kill. Again, we'll compare using +/- On-Ice/60 (-4.71) and +/- Off-Ice/60 (-6.78). Weber played similar minutes (2.17 per 60) but had a bigger on-ice (-3.19) to off-ice (-8.06) differential than Suter. Chara played 2.49 minutes/60 on the PK, but seems to have adversely effected his team (-4.58 +/- On-Ice/60 vs. -4.06 +/- Off-Ice/60). Karlsson played 0.56 penalty kill minutes/60, and for good reason. His +/- On-Ice/60 (-6.60) was brutal compared to his +/- Off-Ice/60 (-5.21). Lidstrom was used sparingly on the penalty kill, and after his ankle injury in February he was completely removed from PK duty. Over the course of the season he averaged 1.67 minutes/60, with a +/- On-Ice/60 of -6.68 and a +/- Off-Ice/60 of -4.80.
  • Hockey Analysis has a unique way to look at the offensive, defensive, and total production of players. Here's the abbreviated explanation from their website (the rest of the article can be found here):
Given a large enough sample size of ice time with and against players I believe that we should have a reliable rating system in which any HARO, HARD, or HART greater than 1 indicates the player is a better than average player and anything under 1 indicates the player is a below average player. 
  • Suter is a good player across the board at even strength. His HARO+ is 0.978, his HARD+ is 1.058, and his HART+ is 1.018. Weber (1.071, 1.142, 1.106) is better than Suter at even strength. Karlsson is a defensive liability (1.294, 0.897, 1.096). Chara (1.311, 1.012, 1.161) and Lidstrom (1.176, 1.134, 1.155) are both great across all phases.
  • There's a clear difference between Suter's powerplay HARO+ (1.263) and Weber's (1.486). Lidstrom's PP HARO+ of 1.291 is fairly close to Suter's, and both are better than Chara's 1.113 and Karlsson's 1.175. 
  •  Suter's penalty kill HARD+ of 0.872 puts him in the same territory as Chara (0.809) and ahead of both Karlsson (0.786) and Lidstrom (0.673). Weber's PK HARD+ of 1.111 is better than any of the other comparison subject's and is the outlier here.
  • Stats.hockeyanalysis.com has data from the 2007/08 season through the 2011/12 season, and Suter's HARO+, HARD+, and HART+ over these five years was 0.833, 1.060, and 0.947, respectively. Not great offensively, but his defense has been more than solid.
  • Over the past five seasons, Suter's powerplay HARO+ has been 1.073. 
  • Suter's penalty kill HARD+ over the past five years has been 1.089. 
Contract

Suter's expiring contract has been paying him $3.5 million/yr over the last four seasons. He's played well enough to deserve a pay raise, and the relatively thin pool of unrestricted free agent defensemen dictates that he would have had to screw up pretty badly not to get more money.

With Suter, you're getting a good defensive defenseman with moderate offensive capabilities. He should be paid as such. Shea Weber's $7.5 million salary for the 2011/12 season is the high watermark for d-men, and the comparisons above show that he's a special talent. In my mind, Suter is worth significantly less than Weber because the offensive production just isn't there. Also, there's the possibility of a "Shea Weber effect" tainting Suter's numbers. Even advanced stats can't perfectly control for the fact that Weber and Suter have played almost identical minutes across situations and have played them as defense partners. It's hard to statistically extract exactly what Suter would contribute without Weber, and vice versa.

Statistically speaking, Niklas Kronwall compares very favorably to Suter. I'd expect Suter to sign a similar but slightly larger contract than the extension Kronwall signed this past October. 

Estimated Contract: $22 million/4 years ($5.5 million/yr)
Estimate Value: $5 million/yr

Can Detroit Sign Him?

If he's willing, then easily.

This roster assumes that the salary cap goes up to the $70 million that Jim Devellano said last week he expects it to. At that level, there could be room to sign both Suter and Parise, as well as re-sign Detroit's most important free agents.  

Signing Suter gives the Wings a good top pair defenseman for years to come, someone that would pair well with Niklas Kronwall. Detroit wants to get bigger and stronger in the offseason, and Suter's 6-1', 200 pound frame fits the bill, while also giving them the top flight defenseman they need. 

Like it? Hate it? Let me know (and follow me) on Twitter @TOGBlog1 or by email at theoctopigarden@gmail.com

Statistics in this article come from nhl.com, behindthenet.ca, and stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Babcock on why the Wings lost the Cup in 2007

According to Mike Babcock, this play is the reason we lost the 2007 Western Conference Finals to Anaheim. Here's what Babs has to say in his recent book, Leave No Doubt:

In the 2007 playoffs, I was coaching the Detroit Red Wings versus Scott [Niedermayer]'s Anaheim Ducks. He made a great play in Game Five to tie the game 1-1 and set them up for an overtime win. We went to Anaheim for Game Six and they knocked us out of the playoffs. Then they went on to beat Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. I believe if Scott doesn't make that play in Game Five, we win the Cup.
Think about that for a minute. We're one play away from winning the Cup in 2007, and one more play away from winning the Cup in 2009. That's be three Cups in three years, and the closest thing to a dynasty we've seen in professional sports in quite a while.

It's painful to think about what could have been, but take some solace in this. The management in Detroit knows how to build a winning club in the post-lockout era, and if it wasn't for two plays we'd have multiple banners to show for it.

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