We’re less than 2 weeks away from one of the most pivotal drafts in the history of the Flames franchise so, naturally, there’s plenty to talk about. Elliotte Friedman reported during the last game of the Stanley Cup finals that the Flames are already aggressively pursuing a "move up" strategy, offering all of their first round picks for Colorado’s first overall (which has been summarily rejected, of course).
It seems like a steep price to pay, but I think it’s a worthwhile venture. The difference in quality between your typical top-3 player and evern top-6 is usually steep, to say nothing of the lottery tickets available later in the first round. As such, there’s a very good chance a guy like Nate MacKinnon would be worth more (perhaps orders of magnitude more) than whoever else the Flames could pick at 6, 22 and 28, combined. Which is, of course, why the Avs rejected the offer (well…that and still being mad about the whole ROR offer-sheet thing).
The good news is, the Flames apparently aren’t gun-shy about paying the price to move up. Whether this actually gets them anywhere near a MacKinnon or Barkov remains to be seen.
Of course, the other rumor circulating has to do with Calgary quietly seeking to augment their executive staff by hiring a new president of hockey ops. As mentioned here on Saturday, Brendan Shanahan was in town this past week talking to the powers-that-be, so he’s obviously a leading candidate. Friedman was on the FAN960 this morning and mentioned a number of other names including Brian Burke and Colin Campbell (shudder).
I’m not sure what was the impetus for this search, but I am supportive of getting some new blood into the office and shuttling Ken King back a few steps so he doesn’t have his hands in the hockey decisions. That said, the list of proposed names thus far kind of leave me cold – it’s either a collection of the drastically unproven (Brendan Shanahan) or of old-school warhorses who, while established figureheads in the league, don’t exactly bring a lot of new ideas or fresh perspectives to the organization.
Frequent commenter Clyde bristled a bit at my dismissal of Brian Burke in the comments of the previous article on this topic during the weekend. I’ll clarify as to why I am against a chap like Burke getting a prominent seat at the head of the Flames table now –
Let’s first establish that Brian Burke is a smart dude. He’s accomplished a ton at the NHL level in various aspects of the business and has been the head of a Stanley Cup winning team in Anaheim. He’s also been the architect of some pretty ballsy trades in the past, including the incredible Sedin heist of the ’99 draft and the Phaneuf thievery, of which all Flames fans are unfortunately familiar.
The problem with Burke from what I’ve seen over the last 5 years or so is he seems to be at the point of his career where he’s no longer interested in learning about the game. That comes off like a ridiculous critique of a guy who has been operating at the highest level for decades, but the truth is the game never stops changing, be it in terms of what we know and are able to analyze, to how each successive generation of talent, rule changes, equipment upgrades, etc. alters the way the hockey is played, understood and won.
Burke was an ardent proponent on old-school, tough guy hockey during his time in Toronto as well as an outspoken critic of advance, statistical analysis. During his tenure as the Leafs GM Burke had his wins and losses in isolated moves here and there, but overall it became clear he didn’t really know what was needed to get the club to the next level. He completely misread the value of guys like Colton Orr and Mike Komisarek and put way too much on the line with the Phil Kessel gambit. Now, Kessel is probably the best player on the club currently, but he’s not a talent who appreciably shifts and shapes a team’s fortunes like, say, a Pavel Datsyuk.
Which is to say, nothing Burke did in Toronto impressed me much, aside from perhaps robbing a desperate Darryl Sutter of Dion Phaneuf for a handful of magic beans. Otherwise his signings, trades and expressed strategy for team building were a mix of painfully conventional, misguided or just plain poor gambles. I’m sure some will argue the club finally making the playoffs and pressing the cup finalist Bruins to a close, 7-game series vindicates Burke’s direction overall, but the truth is the Leafs were once again one of the worst possession teams in the league and it was likely a lock-out shortened season that delivered them a post-season berth more than anything else.
Meaning, despite Burke’s boldness and bluster, the Toronto Maple Leafs really never took a solid step forward during his time there, even though they are the richest club in the entire league. Despite that, Burke’s views of the game seem to be stagnating and atrophing if what he says in public is to be believed.
Other Stuff – Be Skeptical of Scouting Reports
This is the season of scouting reports. The draft has spawned a dozen websites and publications that report on every eligible kid’s physical prowess, results, aspirations, psychological profile, personal grooming habits, etc.
With so much information it’s sometimes difficult to determine what is useful. But it also means we can go back and go over previous reports to see how accurate and useful they are in projecting future performance.
As an aside, people are naturally skeptical about stats and numbers because it’s harder to picture (people are, by nature, innumerate) and numbers are also much easier to look up and disprove. Fuzzy stuff like descriptive, qualitative scouting reports make picturing a player and his style easier but tend to be more ephemeral as well.
What I’m not saying is "don’t be skeptical of numbers". Despite my reputation as a "stats guy", I think, in general, people should be skeptical of everything – including both quantitative and qualitative measures of performance. It’s much easier for most folks to cast a jaundiced eye at the former rather than the latter though.
Here’s a couple of examples:
1.) Tyler Dellow investigated the prognostications of Justin Goldman ("The Goalie Guild") this weekend after it was brought his attention Justin disappeared an article where he predicted Bobrovsky wasn’t going to be a useful starter for the Blue Jackets this year (whoops!).
The point isn’t merely that Goldman got his prediction completely wrong (as we say around here a lot – goalies are voodoo), but that his personal brand as a goalie expert is buttressed by scouting reports that are peppered with all sorts of plausible sounding psycho-babble – indeed, stuff that probably don’t have a lot of actual value when it comes to analyzing goaltenders. For instance:
In terms of improvements, (Bobrovsky) just needs to work on playing bigger (space management) and managing plays behind his net. That’s a huge area of concern for me, because once he starts to chase a play, he over-reacts and starts swimming. I see that head start turning side to side, and I can sense the uncertainty. He needs to display more body control in tight, and obviously he needs to work on rebound control and covering space.
For the record, I have had interactions with Goldman in the past and he has seemed very keen about learning new avenues of critical analysis and, similarly, where he might be making errors in his own work. He shouldn’t have tried to eliminate the record of his analysis here though.
The best thing is to make calls, stand by them and learn from your mistakes. Nobody in this racket is perfect…not even the guys being paid to do it professionally.
2.) Next up, this post from 2007 features a variety of fairly in-depth scouting reports from a McKeen’s contributor who now works as an amateur scout for the Winnipeg Jets. It’s an amazing glance backwards with the benefit of hindsight, because like Goldman on Bobrovsky, Max Geise gets things completely, spectacularly wrong (and in more than one instance).
For example, he had this to say about PK Subban: He is hesitant to involve himself in traffic and will let a guy walk him to the net before he takes a bruise. Geise named Subban the softest player available in the draft.
There are other interesting bits to be found in the article – for instance, how much "big guys who can skate" get a bump in their perceived value, even if their results aren’t all that impressive (and how frequently those guys don’t seem to work out. *cough*Colton Gillies*cough*). Also, guys with good attitudes who coaches will love get glowing reports, even though five years down the line that hasn’t seemed to ensure they will be worthwhile NHLers.
Perhaps the most amusing section is on US highschool defender Will Weber, who Geise ranked as the 42nd best prospect available. His praise for the player is effusive, to say the least:
Weber is blessed with a tall, well built, strapping 6-4 205 frame. He’s an offensive defenseman that can coast to coast. His mobility is phenomenal for a player of his size as he owns a fluid and powerful stride. Weber doesn’t lack in confidence and his hands are exceptional as he can really dangle around the opposition. For a big man he can stick handle in a phone booth. He displays good creativity while quarterbacking the power play and can stretch the ice with a home run out let pass.
His shot is heavy and quickly released as he does a great job getting it through. He owns a bone rattling slap shot but it’s his deadly wrist shot that is especially good as he can pick corners with it or generate rebounds. Defensively he’s a wild horse and is very raw. He’ll need to refine his defensive positioning but he’s naturally mean and does a good job standing up his man at the blue line with a stiff check. Definitely one of the best pure athletes in the draft at any position…
If you haven’t heard of Will Weber, well, there’s a reason. He was picked by the Blue Jackets in the second round of the draft that year and went on to have a completely unremarkable career in the USHL and college levels. In fact, despite talks about his heavy shot and offensive acumen, Weber scored just 5 goals in four seasons for Miami University. His single season best output was 11 points in 33 games as a 23-year old.
Weber currently has 5 points in 60 career AHL games and at 25 years old is probably nowhere near being an NHLer. I don’t know how Geise so completely misread the player in this instance – perhaps he saw a few good games where Weber dominated, perhaps he didn’t properly account for the low level of competition in the highschool league the kid was playing – but whatever it was, he was completely snookered.
The aim here isn’t to pick on Geise necessarily – he actually gets a few things right in his article, including his scouting report of Mikael Backlund which is quite accurate. It’s just that predicting the future of 17 year old hockey players is a complicated bit of business and sometimes your eyes (as well as the assumptions about what makes a good player at the highest levels) can lie to you.
So when you’re flipping through your draft guides, be sure to spike your curiosity with some skepticism on both the numbers and non-numbers side of things. The draft is far from a science at this point and much of the work surrounding it is closer to mysticism and alchemy than anything else.