Random Thoughts – 4th Liners, 10 Points and $400M Insurance



Sorry Flames fans – there’s is just no Flames news to discuss at this point. The team isn’t embroiled in an arena scandle, there’s no pre-season games to discuss and things have only just started for their prospects in junior and overseas.

Luckily there are a few things interesting bits and pieces floating around the hockey world though. Let’s start with Barry Trotz vs fancystats and then move on to more downtown arena talk (yay!)…

Paul Gaustad is the Greatest Hero in American History

FlamesNation, Hockey Prospectus and ESPN contributor Rob Vollman recently published an ESPN Insider article looking at the summers best and worst signings. Included was a survey passed around by various stats geeks (myself included) asking for yay or nay votes in regards to the summer’s various new contracts. Paul Gaustad’s 4 year, $3.25M per season contract was more or less universally panned. Which isn’t surprising for a 30 year old player who has mostly been a 3rd/4th liner during his NHL career.

This is where things get interesting: Craig Custance decided to call up Nashville coach Barry Trotz and ask him about the stats nerds critical take (warning: paywall). Naturally, the long-time Preds bench boss didn’t take too kindly to the notion that Gaustad is overpaid. In fact, he claimed Gaustad is probably worth 10-points in the standings.

TEN POINTS. That’s the difference between a 95-point club and 105-point club…or between fighting for a playoff spot or fighting for tops in the conference.



So it goes without saying that if Paul Gaustad is worth five wins a year by himself that the Predators actually have one of the best bargains in the league on their hands.

It also goes without saying that this is almost certainly nowhere near true. Only the best players in the league tip the scales by themselves to that degree. To be worth 10 standings points, a guy would have to improve a team’s goal differential by about +30 (6 goals = 1 win). The amount of skaters who can do that is vanishingly small.

I don’t have access to the full Trotz rebuke (not being an ESPN Insider member), but Rob filled me in on the body of Trotz’s Gaustad defense:



Notice actual results aren’t listed? As I mentioned in my asking the right questions series, falling in love and overly weighting fuzzy intangibles is a trap in player valuation. It’s not that things like fitness and leadership aren’t worth something, it’s that they should always be viewed in the context of the players actual output. Ie; how much does this player in fact add to goal differential*?

*(Note – Gaustad has hovered around a 3-4 GVT – goals versus threshold – most of his career. Meaning he’s worth about 4 goals more than a replacement level player. So to be worth what Trotz claims, his intanbigles would have to inflate his teammates GD by another 26 goals)

Of course, it’s entirely possible Trotz was being hyperbolic in his defense of the player. Coaches and GM’s tend to do that when they see their guys being questioned or threatened in the media. So we could just put this down to protecting Gaustad through bluster.

On the other hand, if Trotz is serious then I suspect he and his GM are going to be sorely disappointed by that contract going forward…

PS – In addition, the article contains some stuff on the Dennis Wideman deal (also judged tob e one of the worst signings his off-season) and why Feaster felt it was needed anyways.

Lock-out Ripples Reach Swedish Shores

So apparently all sorts of hell is breaking lose in the Swedish Elite League. It was reported recently that Erik Karlsson has chosen to sign in Finland’s SM-liiga rather than brave those troubled waters.

So what’s going on? The nation’s own Thomas Drance has something much more in-depth on this topic here, but for a basic overview of what’s going on, I contacted Swedish sportswriter Uffe Bodin who had this to say:

Loob is the president of Swedish power-house Farjestad, who have won several titles the past years. His club doesn’t want to have NHLers in the SEL and he has been one of the more prominent people to speak up against opening the doors to NHL players.

The SEL is having problems because the different clubs can’t seem to agree on whether or not the should open up to NHL players. Modo from Ornskoldsvik was the first team to sign an NHL player, Alexander Steen, who made his debut last night. It was controversial since the teams had decided not to sign short-term deals with NHL players. Modo’s decision to do so came after a competition committee within the Swedish government had ruled SEL’s decision unlawful.

So right now, it’s basically chaos within the SEL.

What a mess.

Oh, and Nail Yakupov’s ability to play in the KHL is now being challenged by the OHL Sarnia Sting (his previous junior club) because they contend his rights still belong to them. He is suspended from play indefinitely until the matter is resolved.

The lock-out is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Overweighting Rare Events

If you’re sick of the Edmonton arena thing, feel free to skip over this section.

The biggest (non-Oiler employee) downtown arena enthusiast in Edmonton is probably David Staples. He’s argued quite passionately in favor of the project for years. I got into the subject of the proposed 35-year "no move" clause that would supposedly accompany the Katz/publicly financed deal with David on twitter today:


I am somewhat skeptical of what sort of protection a location agreement would truly be worth should things go so sour in a market like Edmonton that an owner would seriously consider relocation,  but we’ll assume for now that such a clause would be iron-clad: that it could truy guarantee the Oilers would remain in Edmonton for the next 35 years come hell or high water.

Which means funding the arena/giving in to Katz’s demands would essentialy result in the city buying insurance against the possibility of Edmonton leaving. As David rightly points out, there’s a real possibility based on historical precedent that the economics can change and threaten the team’s financial viability. The late ’90’s were tough on Canadian teams thanks to a $0.65 dollar and Glen Sather giving out $9M/year contracts to the likes of Bobby Holik. I seem to recall the Flames flirted with Portland at the height of the scare I believe.

"The scare" is the operative term here. In "Thinking, Fast and Slow" Daniel Kahneman notes that humans tend to overweight and overestimate rare events, particularly when they are associated with a negative emotional response:

Emotional arousal is associative, automatic, and uncontrolled, and it produces an impulse for protective action…knowledge (of low probability) does not eliminate the self-generated discomfort and the wish to avoid it…

The emotion is not only disproportionate to the probability, it is also insensitive to the exact level of probability.

In short: people are conspicuously lousy at consciously calculating the possiblity of rare events when they are fear or anxiety inducing. The focus moves from rationally evaluating the true potential of the event occurring (and the costs associated) to finding a way to erase the anxiety itself. As Kahneman notes "people overestimate the probabilities of unlikely events and people overweight unlikely events in their decisions".

This is why I set about asking David just how likely the chances the Oilers leaving Edmonton are. As an Oilers fan, he’s obviously agitated by the thought of them being moved, so I suspect that’s causing him to overweight the actual probability of it happening.

The franchise was established in NHL back in 1979 (33 years ago). During that time, precisely two Canadian teams have been re-located (Winnipeg and Quebec) and the Jets returned to Winnipeg after a 16 year absence (to a smaller market and rink than Edmonton, by the way).

Outside of the aberrant blip in the late ’90’s owing to the dual forces of out of control spending and a bottoming out of the dollar, the Oilers have been a consistently stable franchise with some of the strongest grassroots support in the entire league. Since the lock-out, they have enjoyed some of the best gate receipts in the NHL despite sporting the worst on-ice record. I would also note here that even in the worst financial period in the club’s tenure in Edmonton they still didn’t actually re-locate.

So I’d gauge the chances of the club uprooting from Edmonton owing to market/money problems to be fairly slim in the next 35 years. Atlanta, Winnipeg and Quebec previously moved during that period of time (3/30 = 10%), but only one Canadian team left and has yet to return (1/30 = 3.3%). The Oilers have NEVER re-located in the modern NHL and are currently one of the more profitable franchises in the league. 

So let’s say…not impossible, but very small. Less than 3% is a fair estimate based on the parameters established here I think. That occurence would probably require some combination of the NHLPA toppling the salary cap/cost certainty; Oil stop being worth a whole lot; the dollar falling to $0.50 versus the green back; and Edmontonians to stop loving hockey.

So what should the insurance on a 3% or less chance of the Oilers moving be worth to the city of Edmonton? $4M? $40M? $400M? It’s not nothing, but it’s probably not the latter figure either.

Of course, the current Katz threat is even less credible than this, but far more direct: it’s not predicated on some future, unforeseeable but unlikely events, but instead on him actively choosing to move the team if the city doesn’t capitulate to his demands. The effect is the same, though: he wants the fans to overestimate the chances of his being able to follow through on the threat in order to apply pressure to the public officials.

It’s a gambit that has apparently backfired, however. Fear may help overweight rare events and their consequences, but anger can cause folks to fight back.

Odds and Ends

So I lied a bit at the onset – there is some of Flames, err, "news". Pat Steinberg noted today that Roman Cervenka issn’t eligible for the calder trophy as the league’s best rookie owing to his prior experience in the KHL:

Just means less competition for Sven.

  • RexLibris

    Anyone who watched the Phoenix proceedings can’t seriously think that Edmonton is going anywhere. Even if Katz wants out, on the current arena deal and a $200 million purchase price (full return of capital to Katz) there would probably be a dozen owners lining up for that deal. The NHL would force him to sell long before they allowed a relocation.

  • RexLibris

    On Gaustad, I really don’t see it. Trotz is considered to be one heck of a coach because he always seems to make do with few offensive weapons.

    By the same token, Glen Sather was considered to be the Oilers major asset back when they were on the auction block.

    He went to the Rangers and now that myth is pretty well debunked.

    On the sale of the Oilers, I’d sum up my take on the arguments with a note that, contrary to Staples’ assertion, the past is not always the best predictor of the future. Sometimes it can be a really bad one. (I’m thinking Maginot Line-type history lessons).

    On the SEL, it would seem that the NHL lockout issue has caught every league looking like fools.

    About Yakupov, it isn’t the Sting holding things up from what I have read. Neither is it something the Oilers screwed up. From what I have gathered from Jonathan Willis’ article over at Cult of Hockey, is that Yakupov’s transfer is a bone of contention between the IIHF and Hockey Canada. HC is getting very leery of junior age players jumping overseas rather than returning to junior. If this impasse goes much further I suspect it could have ramifications for future drafting and ranking of European, specifically Russian, prospects. Like there weren’t enough already.

    Here’s the link to the article: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/09/26/edmonton-oilers-nail-yakupov-banned-from-khl-play/

  • Hard to take the Custance/Trotz response all that serious given the fact that Trotz A)isn’t the one who made the deal with Gaustad and B)isn’t an NHL GM (thankfully, for Preds fans). I’d be interested to know how many NHL GMs/Coaches would agree with Trotz’ argument though… I bet it’s a lot.

    The part on Wideman wasn’t nearly as extensive and it was more quoting an unnamed scout who still thinks that Feaster brought in Wideman to allow them the flexibility to trade JBo, even though it hasn’t happened yet. It says Feaster knows he overpaid but sometimes that’s what it takes to get the man you want and keep him from being tempted by the good teams (“good teams”, not exact words, obviously) who are out shopping. I think the only real Feaster quote was that he thinks Dmen are good assets and are much harder to acquire than forwards.

  • RexLibris

    Nothing to talk about, eh?

    Let me start a discussion, then. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The NHL should have relegation, just like European soccer. Teams like Columbus should be relegated to the AHL, and the AHL champions should be promoted to the NHL.

    If a promoted AHL team (say Norfolk) does well in the NHL but can’t draw big crowds, then a city that wants an NHL team badly enough can buy them and move them to their city, provided they affiliate with a new AHL team in the original city.

    Maple Leafs fans should love this idea. After the Leafs get relegated one season and finish behind the Marlies the next season, MLSE would be compelled to do anything in their power to put a winner on the ice — including firing their management.

    Eventually, the deadwood cities that don’t have enough fan support to keep a team alive will all be in the AHL, and all the cities that are capable of supporting an NHL team will have one.

    Unlike, say, the current mess.

    • RexLibris

      You don’t need to go all the way to another sport to find an example of relegation. The Elitserian/Allsvenskan does relegation too. I think the SM-liiga/Mestis does as well, but I’m not sure.

      If the NHL were to do relegation, though, the AHL would have to be A LOT better. the difference between Elitserian and Allsvenskan is MUCH smaller than NHL to AHL. It’s probably smaller than NHL to KHL. The best teams in Allsvenskan are routinely as good or better than the worst teams in Elitserian. Last season, Rogle advanced to SEL at the expense of Djurgarden, for example.

      Columbus would absolutely destroy Norfolk. It would be like the Edmonton Oil Kings playing against the Penticton Vees. It would be a massacre.

      There’s also the problem of the farm team dichotomy as well. Relegation just would not work with the current system.

      • RexLibris

        I agree on the relegation idea.

        There simply isn’t enough of a talent pool/fan base to support the necessary level of competition.

        The current draft lottery cycle as well as some mechanism for revenue sharing is likely the best that the NHL can accomplish at this time.

        Just as a European NHL expansion is unfeasable due to travel issues and time zones, perhaps in the future it will become a realistic goal, but right now I don’t know that it would work.

        I suppose it should also be said, the NHL is dysfunctional enough as is. Do we really want to encourage them to mimic Sepp Blatter and his bunch of criminals?

  • RexLibris

    Thing is, Wideman is definitely a top 4 dman & based on what equivalent UFA’s went, I think we did the same overpayment some other team would have paid him. The very fact you dont have to give up assets to acquire him justifies the slight overpayment & too long of term price tags that come with purchasing UFA’s. He is an asset & if we were to trade him, there is a definite value. Sounds cold & treating these guys like livestock ๐Ÿ™‚ but it is what it is.People can say whatever they want but if he scores 50 points & improves our power play & play decent enough EVS minutes, it was a good signing for Calgary.

    Maybe we can get a rich Oil Tycoon to buy the Oilers & force a trade of Hall & Eberle for Stajan & JBO ๐Ÿ™‚

    • RexLibris

      The Flames gave up Jordan Henry and a 5th round pick for Wideman.

      I would say the cost of acquiring Wideman is more in terms of the long-term commitment and contractual restrictions.

      Henry and a 5th is a small price, but the contract could have larger implications for the Flames.

  • RexLibris

    this may not go along with the article but i’ve been watching some khl games and it is very entertaining hockey high flying up tempo, everything the nhl is not i’m not missing the nhl one bit being able to watch the khl i just wish i understood russian, though all penalties and scoring summaries are in english for some reason.

    sorry rambling here