Oh, Captain! What a Day This Could Have Been

Marty St. Louis retired yesterday. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, to use a cliche. Everyone knew it was coming. He’d become something of a liability on the ice recently and no offers appeared to materialize on July 1. So the next day, he retired.

When I first heard the news, I simply stopped. I didn’t know what to think or what I really felt. Sadness? Nostalgia? A little bit of schadenfreude–some “serves you right!” ? How about regret?

If I’m not sure how to feel about things right now, I do know how this inevitable day would have played out if Marty was still Marty. I’d have been bawling, for one. The fan tributes would have been pouring in. Marty St. Louis, had he retired a Bolt, would have been treated as a saint in Tampa, a demigod. Revered. 

There would be questions about whether the Lightning could survive without him, whether he was so much the source of their drive and their identity that without him, they’d fall apart.

There would be calls to retire number 26 immediately. There would have been regrets that the Lightning hadn’t been able to win him a Cup to retire on. 

He would have been enshrined as the man we all believed him to be, untouchable, untarnishable. Uncomplicated.

That isn’t the way it is anymore. Now, Marty’s just a man. Human, fallible, and too old. He has, in a way he never would have if he’d stayed, grown small before our eyes. We can see now that he has finally aged. Our Iron Man is no longer quite able to keep up. The guy who drove the Lightning through sheer force of will seems to have burned through some of that fire. 

We remember the glory days, but we can’t forget the way it ended. I still believe that Marty’s place in our hearts was never really understood by outsiders. He wasn’t simply a great player or a leader or a representative of the franchise’s values. He was the Lightning. He didn’t embody the team in any metaphorical sense. He was the avatar, the franchise made human. He was myth made real. More than a man, far more than just an asset.

I realize now that such myth making is bound by its very nature to fail, but at the time, I never even entertained the thought that it might end, that Marty might reject it. Which is what he did, of course. He preferred a different myth, one both bigger and smaller. He wanted universal respect, not local adulation, and when he didn’t get it, he wanted out.

I tend to think that the real world was less kind to Marty than he perhaps expected. He got a measure of respect but no one spoke his name in hushed and reverent tones out there. There was far more room in New York to criticize Martin St. Louis than there had been in Tampa. But perhaps there was more room to breathe, too, more room for Marty to be human. Only Marty St. Louis can say if the change was good for him.

It was good for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Losing Marty made the team grow up and learn to stand without him. The Lightning are unquestionably a better team not carrying his contract, though it’s never just about the contract. It’s not inconceivable that with Martin St. Louis, the Lightning would not have made it as far as they did this past season. That would have been blasphemy a year and a half ago.  It would have been incredibly hard for Jon Cooper to sit Marty, regardless of his production. 

But really, at this moment, that’s beside the point. Marty left and now Marty’s retiring and I’m left wishing that I could celebrate his career without ambiguity. I feel mostly sad for him, because he had so much love and respect in Tampa and he walked away from it. He tarnished his reputation and his legacy and he’ll retire as just another player who couldn’t cut it anymore rather than as a hero.

I know that over time, things will change yet again. There will come a time, perhaps not that far in the future, when Marty will get a welcome and a thank you from the Tampa Bay Lightning. There may come a time when his jersey is retired, who can say? He did so much for this team and for hockey in Florida. And, frankly, without Marty St. Louis, there would be no Tyler Johnson and as a sport we’re far better off that there are Tyler Johnsons out there. 

For now, though, this story ends with a sigh of regret, even after the celebration is done. What a day this could have been. 

Observations on Drafting Goaltenders

Over the past few years, I’ve been spending my summers immersed in NHL goaltending draft data. In light of the upcoming draft I’ve pulled together some general observations that fans of drafting teams might find interesting. All of this has been published before, mostly at Raw Charge or here at Puckology, although in one instance it was published in Justin Goldman’s latest book, Between Two Worlds. Links are provided below. Continue reading

The Montreal Canadiens Really Are the Underdogs. But….

I find it fascinating how winning changes people’s perceptions of a team’s actual strengths. Take the 2014-15 Montreal Canadiens, for instance. They won 50 games, the Atlantic Division title, and a first-round series. And somehow, it gets forgotten that they have been, at least over the long haul, not very good as a team.

You’d think they were good, looking at their roster. They should be good. And yet, there is virtually no measure by which the Montreal Canadiens are actually a better team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. In every single measure of process, they are worse. [All data and graphs are from War On Ice and are 5v5 Score-Adjusted, including playoffs.]

They are worse in possession…

MTL vs TB CF%

whether you look at their possession for

MTL vs TB CF60

or possession against.

MTL vs TB CA60

They are worse at scoring chances,

MTL vs TB SCF%

–again, whether for

MTL vs TB SCF60

or against.

MTL vs TB SCA60

They are worse at scoring, whether you look at goal differential

MTL vs TB GDiff

or shooting percentage.

MTL vs TB SH% for

So how did the Canadiens get where they are? Carey Price. The one area where the Canadiens have been better than the Lightning is in goal.

MTL vs TB SV%

But then, they’ve been better than everyone in goal.

The Canadiens got where they are on percentages.

MTL vs TB PDO

They rode Carey Price’s banner season and got enough scoring between December and January to make up for their terrible possession. They rode Carey Price in the playoffs the same way. There is simply no measure except goaltending by which the Canadiens are not a worse team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. None.

The thing is that none of this season-long stuff — no 82-game measurement — is predictive of any seven game series. The Canadiens are the underdogs, but they’ve got Carey Price, and a few days of rest on their side. And as they showed last year, they are quite capable of stopping the Lightning in the neutral zone and preventing Tampa Bay from using its speed and skill.

It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen. Underdogs usually lose, but not always. And goaltending is an extraordinary equalizer in a seven-game series.

But home ice doesn’t make the Habs a better team than the Lightning.

CWHL/NWHL: Competition is Good, War is not

Not even a month ago, on March 26, a new women’s professional hockey league was announced: the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). The arrival of this new, US-based league had sparked intense interest and discussion among women’s hockey fans. It has also sparked anxiety and hostility in some quarters. While the former is positive, the latter is not.

Continue reading

Adjusting for Shot Quality: Gudlevskis and the Syracuse Crunch, Pt. II

Last time I looked briefly at some elements of shot quality and their effect on Kristers Gudlevskis’s statistics. I used Steve Valiquette’s Red/Green shot criteria as a baseline, though I did add my own twist to it. Rather than repeat all of that again, I’ll recommend that if you’re unfamiliar or need a refresher you take a moment to look that over as the following is based on concepts explained there.

In the meantime, I have added three more games from the early part of the Crunch’s season and Steve Valiquette has also added a few more tidbits of trends at the NHL level that help give context to the numbers I’ve uncovered for the Crunch.Two of these games were Gudlevskis’s games. One was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s. This gives me a sample that is mostly concerned with the kinds of shots seen by Gudlevskis. Continue reading

The Nashville Predators and On the Forecheck are Wrong on Mike Ribeiro

I haven’t commented publicly about the whole Mike Ribeiro thing. That has been for a number of reasons, but my silence has been an uncomfortable one. It’s over now.

I firmly believe that the Nashville Predators are within their rights to suspend a player while they investigate whether he committed a heinous act. As more than one person has noted, it would not be some great miscarriage of justice. They are a private enterprise and he is an employee with a high public profile. I firmly believe that it is—or used to be—within their character to understand that higher principles come first.

As a Predators fan and a survivor of domestic violence and rape, I am angry and ashamed to have Mike Ribeiro on the active roster. It’s a betrayal, a punch in my face and I’ve had quite enough of those to last a lifetime. The Predators care more about him than about me.

And it is a betrayal for the writers at On the Forecheck to have acted the way they have towards those who have critiqued their position. I am angry and ashamed over this as well. On the Forecheck has shown more interest in their damaged pride than in justice.

I don’t think the staff members there (or Dirk Hoag, for that matter) are malicious when it comes to these issues. Or at least I don’t think that they started out as malicious. By now, this has gone beyond its initial forms.

Instead they are entrenched in a system that rewards them in ways they are unable to relinquish. They are rewarded for being white, male, heterosexual, middle class, educated, and “clean cut.”  They are what the system is designed to foster.

It is no surprise that even while acknowledging that the justice system is horribly, terribly broken, these men turn to it for sense and comfort. To do otherwise would be to admit to themselves that they’ve been participating in and benefitting from constant and never-redressed injustice against the most vulnerable. It would necessitate understanding their own guilt.

It would turn the entire world upside down.

The system that they claim should be left alone to produce justice will never produce justice. It is incapable of justice. It punishes victims for being abused. This is a system that gives zero protection to victims and massive protections to abusers. It is a system that has allowed TENS OF THOUSANDS of rape kits to go untested. TENS OF THOUSANDS  of victims, mostly poor women and children of color, who have been told by this very system to fuck off.

This is a system that equates a man’s reputation with justice but not a woman’s safety. It is a system that bends over backwards not to inconvenience those accused, not to believe their accusers, not to hear the testimony or see the reality of abuse. It is a system that didn’t believe Ray Rice when he said he hit his wife until they actually saw him hit his wife.

Someone said to me that it would be unfair to Mike Ribeiro to damage his reputation because he might be innocent. I still don’t think that person understands the implication of that position. It requires preferring the virtual certainty of major injustice against a young woman in order to avoid inconveniencing a prominent man. It’s not a position any sane person would take in regards to any investigation that didn’t involve sexual or gendered violence.

“Thank you for reporting this theft. We will investigate this matter as fully as possible as long as no one in the general public finds out about our investigation. Once someone starts gossiping, though, we’ll have to stop because they might be innocent.”

Is this the ideal of justice we’re pursuing?

For any other species of wrongdoing we are willing to accept the necessary pains of investigation. For domestic and sexual violence, we demand that a man’s prospects never be diminished no matter the cost to the accuser, society, or the concept of justice.

This system will remain profoundly broken until we are willing to accept that fixing the system means not doing things the way we’ve always done them. It will mean accepting that those accused of domestic and sexual violence will have to undergo the same treatment as those accused of other kinds of wrongdoing. It will mean facing up to this case—this one right here in front of us right now.

And Dirk Hoag, the staff at On the Forecheck, and most importantly the Nashville Predators and the National Hockey League have all shown themselves completely unwilling to do that.

Kristers Gudlevskis, the Syracuse Crunch, and Shot Quality

When the Tampa Bay Lightning assigned Kristers Gudlevskis to the Syracuse Crunch this past September, it was with the intention that he work on his consistency from game to game. They wanted him to learn how to be good even when he was not at his personal best.

There’s another caveat here, however, and that is that Gudlevskis has to learn how to be good even when the team in front of him is playing at their worst. The particular mix of chances that the Syracuse Crunch are allowing does affect Gudlevskis’s overall save percentage and Gudlevskis’s particular vulnerabilities are reinforcing that. Thus, when defense is good, goaltending is good and when defense falters, goaltending falters. Continue reading

Just Give Pekka Rinne the Vezina Already

You could be forgiven for doubting. It wasn’t at all clear whether Pekka Rinne would be able to return to the form that had garnered him two Vezina nominations. A lingering hip problem in 2012-13 that probably led him to put up his lowest save percentage in five years. Surgery, followed by post-surgical complications followed by even worse performance in March and into April. And he turned 32 this November. Everyone had questions.

Thankfully for Predators fans—not to mention goalie fans—Rinne is showing that he’s still one of the very best in the league. He may even be playing better than he was before.

It began to show in the World Championships in May, when Rinne’s performance dragged an otherwise mediocre Finnish team to the silver medal.

 

It has continued through the season, where Rinne has been at the top of the leaderboard in save percentage, goals against, and wins throughout from the beginning. His only real competition this season has been Carey Price. And that’s a tight race. My colleague Paul Campbell (@Paul_G_Campbell) has made the case for Price, but let’s be honest, we haven’t seen a Vezina race this close in a long time.

As of Feb 18, Rinne holds a very slight lead over Price in 5v5 save percentage (via War-On-Ice): Rinne’s .9456 is barely better than Price’s .9425. Rinne is second to Price (again, just barely—.9455 to .9433) in Adjusted Save Percentage (goalies with 750+ 5v5 minutes). Rinne has been very slightly better at stopping pucks in the high and medium danger zones. Price has been better at stopping them in the low danger zone. [Note that whenever possible, stats cited here are through Feb. 18, so that Paul and I are using the same set of data.]

They are first and second in Fenwick and Corsi Save Percentage. Rinne gets 1.11 minutes per shot attempt; Price gets 1.04 minutes. Both are outperforming their Opponents’ On-Ice Goals For/60, Rinne by 0.69 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 and Price by 0.60. Rinne’s .773 Quality Start rate puts him solidly above his competition. Price’s .652 is sixth among goalies with more than 20 games. They are first and second in GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average), with Price leading there.

In short, going by the numbers, Price and Rinne are currently neck and neck. The differences in most of these numbers are negligible. Which one is ahead in any of the categories changes from day to day. Only the quality start rate and GSAA show much differentiation. This indicates that while Rinne has been more consistent, Price has been behind a worse team.

And that consistency is remarkable. Rinne has simply been dominating all season and has never dropped below .935 in four months. It took Price half a season to catch up.

Rinne v Price over time 201415

The next 20 games will be telling, but I don’t expect to see significant separation in these numbers develop. There simply isn’t enough time left in the season to overcome what has happened so far. It would take a complete collapse by one of the two to really make a winner clear by the numbers. Thus it will almost certainly come down to other factors.

At 32 years old, with a new goalie coach, Rinne has been refining his technical game. He’s playing a bit deeper and a lot calmer, so much so that he makes the whole business look simple. And he’s done this without losing that trademark reactivity. Adding structure without losing creativity. It has been a joy to watch.

 

Rinne tracks the puck better than almost everyone else. He catches the puck better than anyone else. Positioning, footwork. It’s all there. Night after night, Rinne puts it all together and makes magic happen.

And consider this: Pekka Rinne is more than keeping up with a man 5 years his junior who plays more conservatively. He has been and remains the guy to beat. It’s a remarkable feat for the big Finn. Take the play of teammates out of the equation. This isn’t an award for being the best player on the team. This is an award for goaltending. Unlike Price, Pekka Rinne has been astonishing from day one and hasn’t slowed down yet.

This is his year.

How the Lightning can Be Good at Possession and STILL Mess up their Goalies’ Stats

I was having a great discussion with Kyle Alexander and Dan Stewart on twitter today. Kyle was talking about a comment by the coaches of the Tampa Bay Lightning that cited Goals Against per Game as evidence of the team’s defensive troubles. His point was that the team was by other measures much better defensively.

Because everything’s really about goaltending if you try hard enough, I happily hijacked Kyle’s point and we started talking about how the defense affected Bishop instead of talking about how Bishop was affecting the defense. Hahahah. See what I did there? Continue reading