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!)…
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.
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) September 26, 2012
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:
Fit, experience, leadership, size, toughness, ambidextrous faceoff talent, substance, intangibles. @kent_wilson What were Trotz’s defenses?
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) September 26, 2012
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:
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) September 26, 2012
Just means less competition for Sven.