My Thoughts‎ > ‎

Market Inefficiencies, and more

posted Feb 21, 2018, 10:18 PM by Robert Vollman
What if the last change didn’t go to the home team, but was awarded in some other fashion? For instance, if it was based on the score, or the zone, or the manpower situation? I wonder how much of the home ice advantage would disappear? I may look into that. If you’re aware of research in this matter, please be sure to send it my way.

Boston Bruins

One of the hottest teams in the league right now are the Boston Bruins. They have an amazing top line, a hot goalie, and their organizational strength has finally manifested itself, and solved their long-standing depth problem.

On February 9th, I noticed they had amassed 58 of a possible 70 points in the preceding 35 games, during which time they were 27-4-4, and outscoring opponents 124-68. To visually demonstrate that peak, I mapped out a rolling 35-game average all the way back to the 2005 lockout, and here’s how it looked.

They actually got 59 points in a 35-game stretch ending in January 2009. That was the season that everything fell into place for the Bruins. Just like today’s Golden Knights, everybody had a career season.
  • David Krejci jumped from 27 points to 73, which is still his career high, and led the league with a +37
  • Phil Kessel jumped from 37 points to 60, including 36 goals, which is one shy of his current career high
  • Dennis Wideman jumped from a career high of 36 points to 50, which he surpassed only once, with 56 points in 2014-15
  • Chuck Kobasew scored 21 goals in 68 games. The rest of his career, he scored 32 goals in 240 games.
  • In his final NHL season, 33-year-old P.J. Axelsson scored 30 points, the second-highest total of his career
  • Rookie Matt Hunwick scored 27 points in 53 games, and has yet to score 20 in a season since then
  • Mark Stuart scored 17 points, which still stands as his career high.
  • 34-year-old Tim Thomas improved from .921 to a league-leading .933, and won the Vezina.
That really puts Boston’s current performance into perspective. Everything is falling into place for Boston. Mainstream opinion is this makes them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, something that certainly wasn’t the case a few short months ago.

Quick note on the flip side: Columbus has made an about face in the wrong direction. On December 1, they were tied for third overall with a record of 17-8-1. Between then and February 10, they were 10-15-3, third last in the NHL. A very puzzling slide.

Market inefficiencies

In the salary cap era, there have always been a set of ever-changing market inefficiencies. Right now, there is a noticeable premium placed on mediocre No. 4 defensemen. 

We first saw this in the summer, with free agents like Karl Alzner ($4.625M/yr for 5 years), Dmitry Kulikov ($4.13M for 3), Kris Russell ($4.0M for 4), Justin Schultz ($5.5M for 3), Michael Stone ($3.5M for 3), and Brendan Smith ($4.35M for 4).

Recently, Smith was placed on waivers, so it appeared that this inefficiency was slowly being corrected. But then, the Canucks signed Erik Gudbranson for $4.0M/yr for 3 years. So, the trend may continue into this summer.

Granted, it’s only an opinion that these are mediocre No. 4 defensemen, especially the first adjective. Based on their ice time and usage, most of them can be roughly classified as No. 4 defensemen as a matter of fact, but classifying them as mediocre is simply my interpretation of their underlying statistics. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I was in error in one of these cases. Indeed, I received a surprisingly emotional and passionate defense of Kulikov on Twitter. However, most people agree with the overall sentiment, even if they disagreed with one particular inclusion.

What does this mean for NHL front offices? Well, it’s a bad time to sign these types of players. If a team is looking to sign a defensemen, then they might better off trying to manage with a low-cost secondary option like Nick Holden, John Moore, or Mark Barberio, and investing the savings elsewhere in the lineup. 

Another market inefficiency was highlighted in the recent trade between the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators which included Dion Phaneuf and Marian Gaborik. The former got an inflated contract because of PDO, and the latter because of playoff success.

Phaneuf signed his contract right at the end of the miraculous 2013 calendar year. Remember that period of time? Toronto was getting very badly outplayed every night, but won games because of high shooting and save percentages (which, when added together, form PDO). There’s nothing wrong with a high PDO, but history has shown time and time again that it can’t be sustained. But, in the excitement of that success, they paid Phaneuf (and others) far, far more than they otherwise would have.

If anything contributes to big contracts more than a run of high PDO, then it’s playoff success. Gaborik is a good example of that, because he was simply amazing when the Kings acquired him at the 2014 deadline. They won the Cup that year, so they signed an injury-prone 32-year-old to a big, seven-year deal. Now, only a few years into the deal, Gaborik is actually considered to be a negative asset in the salary cap world, to the point where the average fan feels that Ottawa would have to throw in a 2nd-round pick in order for another organization to take his contract off their hands.

Now, I don’t mean to be glib about this. They’re both fine hockey players, and teams to have to make calculated gambles to win it all. Every team that has won the Cup did so by risking big investments in certain players. At the time, Phaneuf and Gaborik were viewed as those types of players. All I’m saying is that this is a market inefficiency. Those with high PDOs or who just came off playoff success generally get far larger contracts that identical players who haven’t.

Just to take this to a more extreme example, consider Bobby Ryan’s contract with Ottawa. As great as Erik Karlsson is, over a third of fans think that bundling Karlsson with Ryan’s contract would actually negate his trade value. Of course, I have no explanation for Ryan’s big contract, because he was signed right before the 2014-15 season, and for no particular reason – no playoff success, no PDO, no awards. I’m not quite sure how that contract came to pass.

This poll is still open, if you want to weigh in.

Odds & Ends

Are you following your local GoalBot on Twitter? The GoalBots for all 31 teams have been setup, and you can check the Moneypuck website for more information.

My ESPN article this week looked at how to repair the Detroit Red Wings, but on Twitter I asked a quick question about the Chicago Blackhawks, and if it made sense to trade one of their three core players and, if so, who? Mostly it was a split between Toews and Keith, but I’m really not sure what my opinion would be.

My friend Stan Nieradka (@smn013) recently pointed out that 14 (of 37) Avalanche players from last season aren’t in the NHL this year. I once dabbled with the idea of evaluating teams based on how many of their players no longer played in the NHL after that season. I’d love to go back and run this test historically and see how close 14 is to the record.

Injuries are down this year, according to the data compiled by @NHLInjuryViz

It’s a little surprising, but Florida’s Bob Boughner is actually faring the best of this year’s four NHL rookies coaches. 

There’s buzz that Brassard could be moved at the trade deadline, but I think his value is being overestimated. Brassard is used almost exclusively for his scoring, and his scoring rate is roughly average. At 30, he may decline. As a Senator, Brassard has averaged 1.50 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. That ranks 201st among the 434 forwards to play at least 500 minutes in that time, according to the data at Corsica Hockey.

A few goalies have already moved, including Petr Mrazek and Darcy Kuemper. I like to look at rolling averages, so I can get a view of a goalie’s upside, downside, and overall trend. In Mrazek’s case, his peak was almost exactly two years ago, from which his numbers fell quickly. Now, he is gradually climbing back to league average (in orange), but is still slightly below.

As for Kuemper, he’s playing at his peak, which he first hit early in his career. However, he has spent most of his career near the league average (in orange), with slumps in the 2015 calendar year, and last season.

As pointed out on Sportsnet, Edmonton could be on the verge of a historically bad season killing penalties.