Friday, July 11, 2008

I Was Told There'd Be No Math On This Exam

When you saw that this was Camp Week, you probably thought it would be all fun and games - a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Little did you know that you'd would be heading to summer school (like Joe Finley, who is not hitting the books this month due to eligibility issues, contrary to rumor).

Now, I admit that this week has been a little stat-heavy in this corner of the interwebs, but I like to keep you guys as smart as can be, so here's another lesson entitled "You Want To Let Boyd Gordon Go? Are You Nuckin' Futs?"

By way of background, I've seen it suggested that Gordo might be one of the odd men out up front come Fall and that he's possible trade (or even waiver) bait to alleviate some of the current (small "c") cap concerns. To me, the former assertion would be a terrible mistake and the latter makes no sense whatsoever, and you'll see why below.

On Wednesday we noted Gordon's Selke credentials and we discussed his all-around game in depth when his Rink Wrap came up, but his defensive contribution alone doesn't tell the full story of his value to the team, so let's look at how he stacked up against the rest of the team's forwards in 2007-08 (for the purpose of this exercise, only returning forwards who played a significant number of games and only games played for the Caps are considered).

The first stat we'll look at is player contribution, per Hockey Analytics (defined in this PDF, with data taken from this document). To level the games played playing field, these numbers are on a per game basis:

No surprise at the top, and really not a terribly surprising order overall, though you'd have hoped your $4 million/38-year-old center would have rated a little higher (and I still maintain that Donald Brashear at $1.2 million this coming season is the worst contract on the team, but that's another topic for another day).

It's worth noting that Gordon's entire contribution was defensive, which isn't surprising either, but a goal prevented is equal to a goal scored in this analysis, as it should be, theoretically (other even or negative contributors offensively were Brashear and David Steckel, while only Alex Semin, Michael Nylander and Brashear were on the wrong side of the ledger in terms of defensive contribution).

Next stat? Quality of teammates five-on-five. Behind The Net describes the problem ("[One]weakness of the plus/minus statistic in the NHL is that it is depends on a player's linemates - just ask anyone who ever played with Mario Lemieux.") and defines this metric ("We can address this problem by calculating the average Behindthenet rating of a player's teammate when he's on the ice.). Basically, it's just a look at who's skating with top talent and who's out there with grinders:

Things get a little more interesting here, and you can immediately see how lost the second line was for much of the season with Semin missing time, without a real solid, healthy playmaking center for much of the year as Nicklas Backstrom acclimated himself to North America (then promptly got promoted to the top line) and Nylander fought injuries, and with Tomas Fleischmann facing a significant talent deficit. You also see that part of Eric Fehr's struggles may be attributable to his linemates (though this is certainly a chicken-or-the-egg situation).

Back to Gordon, other than brief stints on the second line, Gordon got almost exclusively checking-line duties last year and lined up with other grinders. He also got 19 seconds of power-play time per game. Point being, whereas some players benefited from extra-man time and skating with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and the team's other top skill players, Gordon wasn't afforded that opportunity (nor should he have been, mind you - just stating a fact).

Since we looked at who skated with whom, let's look at who skated against whom - quality of competition five-on-five. Again we turn to Behind The Net to describe the problem ("One of the weaknesses of the plus/minus statistic in the NHL is that it is highly-dependent on who a player plays against. A forward assigned to check Jaromir Jagr will have a harder time keeping the other team off the scoreboard than a player who lines up against the other team's fourth line.") and to define the metric ("We can address this problem by calculating the average Behindthenet rating of the opposing players who are on the ice."):

This tells us that the Ovechkin line (with either Swedish pivot) faced the opponents' best (certainly just about every time the stepped on the ice in someone else's barn), and that Gordon drew the toughest assignments defensively when the opportunity presented itself. It's interesting how bunched the Caps forwards are here, though. The spread for Wings forwards, for example, ranged from 0.13 (Henrik Zetterberg) to -0.22 (Aaron Downey), and Ovechkin - the Caps' leader - only faced the 123rd toughest competition among NHL forwards who played 40 or more games (thanks in part to playing so many intra-divisional games and in part to not having to play against Alex Ovechkin).

Finally, we get to the pay off. We've seen who has (and hasn't) contributed. We've seen who has skated with and against whom. But what about the contribution per salary cap dollar? Based on 2008-09 cap hits (projected for Gordon) and 2007-08 stats, here's your "bang for the buck" - player contribution per game, per dollar:

You can see that there are bargains to be had if some of the teams cheaper wingers get better, and you'd hope that a few of the pricey vets at the bottom start doing a little more for the big bucks they're receiving, but seeing Boyd Gordon at the top and considering his raw contribution-per-game number makes you realize just how valuable the longest-tenured member of this Caps team really is. A player like Gordon - at a price like Gordon's - is incredibly difficult to replace in a salary capped league, and to think otherwise is done at the thinkers own peril.

* Why use last year's stats and this year's salary? Because for many of these guys it's the same, and for others, last year's performance determined this year's salary.


hockeymomVA said...

Sign Gordo! Thanks for the breakdown...makes the process easier to understand for us non-numbers fans :)

Tyler said...

I'm with you on Gordo. But, just for the sake of argument: If the Caps have to move a forward because of cap issues (still a big 'if'), who do you move?

Chris said...

You comment on Bashear's contract has made you my new go-to Caps blogger.

JP said...

If the Caps have to move a forward because of cap issues (still a big 'if'), who do you move?

Assuming it were possible, I'd move 37.5% of Fedorov's contract (as in I would not have signed him at his price) and all of Brashear's. If you really feel that an enforcer is a neccessity (and some teams - including the Cup Champs - don't see it that way), I'm pretty sure you can find some knucklehead who can do the job at half of Brash's price.

That's not to say that I don't delight in a nice Brashear shake-em-and-smash-em tussle, but look at what he brings to the table (on-ice, at least) - not much.

And thanks, Chris.

Andi said...

JP --

I'd wondered about Brashear, since nobody seems to talk about him very much, Thanks for the insight. Although I don't know all the numbers and I don't even get what all of them mean yet (especially plus/minus - if someone could explain that I'd be grateful), when I do understand the numbers I find them very insightful, and your logical and cool-headed analysis has helped me understand the game a lot better than I did when I first started watching.

What role do penalties play in your numbers? Just from my observation in the last season, there's a few players on the team who seem to be repeat offenders in terms of penalties. How does that affect a team, and how does that affect a team's numbers? How does it affect the repeat offender's value to the team?

~Mark said...

Nice analysis JP, but I have to say I disagree with you IF it comes down to choosing either Steckel OR Gordo. Even by your own stats, the two are very close statistically, and Gordon has many more NHL games under his belt than Stecks.
If such a choice were to happen, it would surely be a financial decision. Stecks is just a better value at this time in his career (per the "bang for buck" chart).

Stormblue said...

Granted I am not using math, but here is what I posted on this subject earlier this week on Tarik's blog:

Reasons why Gordon will likely be gone:

1) Fedorov takes his place on the PK and faceoffs with little to no drop in skill - Gordon's key contributions to the team.

2) Aucoin, a player with some NHL experience, is on a two-way in Hershey and can fill the reserve Center slot without a cap impact. (compared to Gordon, who can't be sent down easily and will impact the cap as a healthy scratch).

3) Gordon might have room for progress, but he likely will not have a substantial improvement in play from here on out.

4) Flash is already an extra forward and Laich can shift to center if needed. Gordon might be a 2nd option for injury fill-in on this year's team.

5) who knows what prospect might play himself onto the team further crowding the field. There is even another "Gordon" in Hersey already.

Sombrero Guy said...

I'd love to keep Gordo, but with others already under contract what do we do? 1.74 million left under the Cap, and the bulk of that will likely go to Mo in a arbitration award.

Who is more important, Mo or Gordo? I think all of us would say Mo.

Who do we send out of town to make room for Gordo? I agree that Fedorov contract is a little rich, I was expecting more like 3 million in which case we would have enough money for Gordon.

Bobby Henninow said...

I dunno... thought Gordon looked like real poopoo in the playoffs. I say: "dump him". Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The "bang for buck" analysis is kind of silly. Unless the nhl changes the rules to allow a certain dollar amount of forwards on the ice at any time. Assuming PC is a solid stat (debatable particularly so for goons), You have to maximize the PC that is on the ice over the course of the game given the constraint of the salary cap.

Sombrero Guy said...

JP - What are the eligibility issues surrounding Finley? Does that mean he can't play in the fall, or just can't take summer classes because that would mess with his eligibility?

JP said...

@ SG: I guess that line wasn't delivered as articulately as it could have been, so let me clarify - Finley is in summer school (which is at least part of the reason he's not in D.C. this week), but he's not in summer school due to an eligibility issue. More likely, he's in summer school to lighten his course load during the season (makes sense, right?).

Sombrero Guy said...

As one who only took a full 15 credits once in college, it makes perfect sense.

dcrock said...

@Sombrero Guy,
5-year plan, eh? Not a bad way to go.
Regarding Gordo, I also say keep him. All the little things he does rarely get noticed, prob because he is a quiet "lunch pail worker" kinda guy and doesn't commit atrocious, highly noticeable errors. Every team needs a guy or two like him.

Anonymous said...

So, um, how is 'Player contribution' determined, anyway? Because, quite frankly, I didn't see such 'player contribution' from Gordon at all when he was, you know, actually playing.

JP said...

So, um, click on the link where I specifically noted that the term is defined.

And the whole point of this post is that players can and do contribute in ways that some folks don't recognize when they're, you know, actually playing.

Sombrero guy said...


Actually 4 years on the nose. Thanks to AP credits and a couple of community college classes my high school offered i had 15 credits before setting foot an UMD.

In a feeble attempt to get back to hockey...I'd rather see Finley go to Hershey. I wasn't THAT impressed with him when I saw him a couple times on TV this past season.

DMG said...

If you really feel that an enforcer is a neccessity (and some teams - including the Cup Champs - don't see it that way), I'm pretty sure you can find some knucklehead who can do the job at half of Brash's price.

I'd have to disagree there. Aaron Downey played 56 games, had 116 PIMs, 3 assists and 15 shots. They don't pay him 1.2 mil and he didn't play every game, but the Red Wings had an enforcer on their roster last year. As for Brashear, the Caps could pick up an AHL enforcer or someone off the scrap heap, but they wouldn't be a top 5 fighter in the league, so he'd probably become someone who'd be a novelty act rather than someone who actually deters physical play by the opposition.

CapsKremlin said...

Brash isn't worth 1.2 million unless he starts throwing his fists again. Last time I saw, the Capitals were bullied by the Flyers and Semin and Backstrom had to stick up for themselves. While playoffs are different than the regular season, when was the last time you saw Brash just manhandle someone, as opposed to Bradley get in a scrap? I agree it's nice to have Brash, a veteran fighter, but he doesn't fight as often as he used to.

jan_czech_republic said...

I agree with you and who do I move? I am from czech republic and I know Flash really well and I mean he is a player for the first two lines, but unfortunately he isn't enough talented to play this role. In some european league yes, but not in NHL.
For the third and fourth line we need players like Gordon.
So my proposal is to trade Flash...What do you think?

Ogre said...

A "full" 15 credit semester? I wish. I've been taking 18 and 19 credit semesters since I got to college. Silly music major.

Finley will make it or he won't. I let my feelings on Gordon be known in a previous "thread" so to speak, but yeah, sign the guy.

As far as Brashear is concerned - if we can get Gordon signed for under the cap, Alzner can get in under the cap, and if need be Lapisto can be(Though I think he needs another year in Hershey - I may be wrong), his contract would be *just fine*.

With Brash, you're paying more for the name. People are going to more scared of Donald Brashear than they are some random joe. Random Joe also has the possibility of taking a run at a star, so someone takes a run at ours. I don't think you have that with Brash. I don't mind his fight numbers dropping, because he's been MUCH more selective with them.

*sigh* I miss Berube and Hunter. =/

jason said...

My problem about cutting Brashear is this: he was the best player on the ice for long stretches of time during the playoffs, and he was a major force. I don't know if he's worth more than $1 million just for that, and this wouldn't be true if the other players stepped up earlier in the series, but I'm just sayin'.

I'd love to keep Gordon, but I just don't know where he plays with a healthy roster. He can't go down to Hershey, and he should be on the ice, but Steckel makes him expendable. I think he's a very solid player, so I hope the Caps can make room for him.

Even if they can't, though, I think it was worth keeping Fedorov at $4m. The guy will make the whole team better even if he doesn't play. He's like a player-coach and is our rabbit whisperer.

dcrock said...

"rabbit whisperer"


NS said...

Rabbit Whisperer. wow. i freakin love this team.

JP said...

Rabbit Whisperer = Comment of the Month.

jason said...

So they re-signed Gordon...hopefully they have a plan to keep Mo too. Can't lose him.

NS said...

Mo's funds will come from Pothier's salary off the books (whether on IR on retired)

DMG said...

While playoffs are different than the regular season, when was the last time you saw Brash just manhandle someone, as opposed to Bradley get in a scrap?

The last two fights I think Brashear convincingly won were March 3 and March 8. These were Brash's last two fights of the season and the March 3 one was undoubtedly a manhandling. Since March 3, Bradley had two fights, one of which was also on March 8 and in which he was manhandled.

pepper said...

Brash is worth it. I think he's more glue to the team then you and I realize. Yeah, he's a big name tough guy, but he's got a real passion for the game and came through huge in the playoffs.

Without Brash, I really believe, this team struggles for an identity.

Berube was our guy in the 1998 run. Brash is our guy in 2009. He's worth every penny.