Kent Wilson

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Kent Wilson is a Hockey blogger for Yahoo! Sports.

  • The Essentials: Calgary Flames Edition

    Getty Images(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here is Kent Wilson of Flames Nation and NHL Numbers, giving us The Essentials for the Calgary Flames.)

    By Kent Wilson

    Player

    There are a number of strong contenders in the pages of Flames history for defining player. Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Doug Gilmour - perhaps the most iconic member of Calgary's lone cup championship team is Lanny McDonald because of his unmistakable mustache. A case could also be made for Theoren Fleury, one of the greatest single talents and certainly the most compelling personal story to ever go through Calgary.

    In the end, it comes down to Jarome Iginla however.

    The Flames captain began his career in Calgary at 19 after being acquired from the Stars for Joe Nieuwendyk. He has since established Flames records in a several categories, lead the team in scoring for a

    Read More »from The Essentials: Calgary Flames Edition
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    Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy is previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings— on the ice and off the ice.

    To say that the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings versus the New Jersey Devils was predicted by advanced analysis would be folly — even the most ardent hockey modeler couldn't have forecasted this outcome with any sort of certainty.

    It would be closer to the truth to say that those paying attention to the underlying numbers are less surprised by this match-up than most: The Kings and Devils haven't had the best records over the last season or two, but their true talent level was probably higher than their records indicated.

    We'll start with the Kings.

    They might be the best eighth seed the league has seen since the lockout.

    Read More »from Devils/Kings Stanley Cup Final Preview: Analyzing the finalists through stat nerd goggles
  • Rebuilding NHL teams vs. the endowment effect

    Getty ImagesAfter a third straight season outside of the playoffs, even the most faithful Flames fans in Calgary are starting to ask the same question pundits and others outside of the city have been asking for several years:

    Why don't the Flames rebuild?

    The organization hasn't won a playoff series since 2004 despite boasting one of the most expensive rosters in the league. Calgary's prospect pool is middling and it's marquee players are aging. They remain competitive enough to routinely challenge for a playoff spot, but are as far away from elite now as they have ever been post-lockout. It's a grim, uncertain future for the team. A clearing of the decks and reboot seems in order: trade the aging stars for kids and picks, up the club's cap flexibility and prepare for a few rough years.

    That's easier said than done, however. There are reasons — both rational and psychological — why teams in Calgary's position are typically hesitant to burn it down and start again.

    Let's first establish that NHL organizations very rarely engage in a full rebuild voluntarily. Invariably the reason a club decides to start trading stars for picks or marketing prospects to their fanbase in June is they have crashed and burned in their efforts to succeed. Meaning — teams rebuild when the rotted foundation collapses under foot and there is nothing to do by dig their way out.

    This can seem either shortsighted or delusional from the outside. However, keep in mind that while it's easy to build a terrible team, it's far more difficult to create a winner from scratch — even with the NHL rewarding the league's barrel scrapers with high picks every year. There is therefore very real risk to tearing down a club, which men who are hired and paid to win must be painfully and consistently aware of.

    From that angle, the gamble of tinkering with a middling team might seem like the better bet versus fire-bombing everything and starting from the bottom of the conference.

    Read More »from Rebuilding NHL teams vs. the endowment effect
  • Behind the NHL’s endless search for natural born winners

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    "[McGrady] was one of the most talented players in the league, very popular, but I came to the conclusion he didn't have the internal fortitude to win a championship." - John Weisbrod

    The easiest way to describe an executive's duty in hockey (or any sport for that matter) is to "find winners": determine through whatever means necessary which players and which coaches can deliver championships. It's a deceptively simple description of a process that is, in fact, hopelessly complex.

    Forget the tables of numbers and results executives pour over. Forget, even, the hundreds of nights each year faceless scouts spend trudging through small towns, drinking cheap coffee and madly scribbling notes about a guy's stride or his battle level along the boards.

    Sure that stuff is integral. Can this guy score? Can he get around the ice at the NHL level? Is he worth a damn behind his own blueline? Those are some basic questions asked of every possible prospect or trade target.

    But the questioning rarely ends when a player leaves the ice. In the ceaseless scramble to find the next franchise cornerstone or the final piece of the puzzle, GM's, coaches and even fans search for clues about a man's character in corners outside of the rink. Aside from the visceral, observable and obviously relevant physical tools and resultant statistical results they evoke, the hockey evaluator turns into both psychiatrist and prophet in an effort to divine whether a player is the type of man who can will his team to victory.

    The search for winners obviously begins in the rinks and gyms where players are evaluated on everything from the mechanics of their movements to their raw physicality including height and body fat content.

    Weisbrod's quote above makes it clear that the question of ability, or raw skill, is an altogether different one than whether a player can be considered a winner. History has taught us to be suspicious of pure athletic prowess or eye-popping offensive totals as perfect predictors of future success.

    The road to the NHL is a difficult one, congested with barriers and obstacles. Sometimes even the best, most promising kids fall by the wayside during the journey.

    Read More »from Behind the NHL’s endless search for natural born winners
  • (Ed. Note: Kent Wilson it the managing editor for Flames Nation, who has written for Hockey Prospectus and Houses of the Hockey. We're honored to bring his intelligent and thorough analysis of the NHL to you here on Puck Daddy.)

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    "Whatever you think you know about your team's supposed ability to maintain high shooting and save percentages, they are very likely to crash back to league average regardless of how many shots you've observed. Internalize this…and you can make a lot of money betting against people who are convinced there's mysticism in scoring goals." - Gabriel Desjardins, Why You Should Ignore Shooting Percentage

    Unless you are a Minnesota Wild fan or a numbers-inclined hockey analyst, you're probably only vaguely aware of the on-going battle between these two factions. Here is some background on the matter:

    After the first 31 games of the season, Minnesota was leading the Western Conference in points. Their Cinderella-like rise from the West's basement was an apparent confirmation of the organization's various off-season moves, from hiring bench boss Mike Yeo, to dealing Brent Burns and Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. A Church of Yeo sprung up in worship of the new bench bosses uncanny ability to squeeze success out of a line-up that was predicted by most to miss the playoffs.

    Minnesota's record was unlikely for a numbers of reasons. Not the least of which was the fact they were getting routinely outshot. In fact, despite boasting one of the best records in the league at the time, the Wild had surrendered 173 more shots on net at even strength than they had generated up to that point. They had also blocked 145 more shots than the opposition. Again, that's only at even strength.

    Their total shots for/against (or "CORSI ratio") to that point was just .419, one of the worst in the league. Nevertheless, the underdog Wild were "finding ways to win," to borrow a cliché, so any skepticism was dismissed out of hand.

    After all, pointing to the standings could readily silence any unbeliever.

    There were some persistent heretics, however — statistically oriented writers and bloggers who acknowledged the Wild were living off of sky-high save percentages that were unlikely to continue in perpetuity. Truly great teams, it was argued, tend to control puck possession and outshoot their opponents. As such, Minnesota's success was likely a mirage. Regression was inevitable and with it, a fall from grace.

    Raining on a parade is never popular. The Minnesota faithful understandably bristled at suggestions their team was merely lucky.

    "Regression to the mean" became a punch line in Wild fan circles.

    Of course, with Minny currently sitting 12th in the Western Conference heading into Thursday night, the next chapter of this story is an obvious one. Daniel Wagner of Backhand Shelf summarizes here what has happened since.

    The purpose of this article isn't to dance on the grave of the Wild's short-lived elite status. Nor is it to point and laugh at Wild fans. The episode is an object lesson in how percentages can vary wildly around a mean in small samples and why that is so counter-intuitive to the fan experience.

    Read More »from The ‘Stats Guys’ vs. Cinderella, or how Minnesota Wild regressed to the mean