[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]
5. Dainius Zubrus (and signing old guys)
Last week, the Devils and Dainius Zubrus mutually terminated the player's contract. He would have been paid $3.1 million against the cap for the upcoming season, during which he would have been 37 years old.
This is, of course, an object lesson in “not signing guys over the age of 35.”
Zubrus began that deal in 2013-14, when he was 35, and was given a full no-trade clause. Why? You'd have to ask Lou Lamoriello, because on the surface the deal didn't make sense even then, and it certainly doesn't now. In the lockout-shortened season prior to this latest — and now apparently final NHL deal — Zubrus played just 22 games, with two goals and seven assists. He was also a good possession player (55.2 percent!) but below the team's performance of 57.1 percent when he was off the ice. That, then, is not good.
And that was when he was 34 years old. He took a paycut of less than 9 percent for that final deal, and in its first two years he piled up a whopping 17-19-36 in 156 games. His utility decreased sharply over that time, and so too did the entire team's quality.
Which, hey, that's what happens with a lot of guys in their mid-30s. So many guys wash out of the league within just a few years of 35 — on either side, actually — that signing them long-term is basically tying yourself to a boulder teetering on the edge of a cliff with a strong wind blowing out. You might not fall screaming to a gory death, but you probably will, and on the way down you're going to regret that you did it.
Not that Zubrus is the reason the Devils were awful last year, or that he was a bad NHLer for the bulk of his career (he started at 18, had a few seasons of 50-plus points, and so on). But the fact is that time comes for everyone, and the Devils last season employed 12 guys over the age of 32. Four more were 31. That's an awful lot of gambling that a guy is going to live up to a contract, and an even more awful amount of money to spend on them.
In all, Lamoriello plunked down almost $37.3 million in cap hits to guys over 32 years old. Some of those were sold off mid-season (like Jaromir Jagr), but the point stands.
Zubrus had a good NHL career of more than 1,200 games. The problem is that seems to have been at least 150 too many.
4. Stats talk
Justin Bourne Tweeted something yesterday that was fairly interesting to me. Basically, he objects to using rate-stats (i.e. points per 60 minutes) instead of raw stats (i.e. total points) because they can favor guys who pound on lower quality of competition. This much is true in some respects; here's a list of the top 20 players last season in 5-on-5 points per 60, with at least 500 minutes played:
What it does, instead, is tell us, “Hmm, maybe there's a reason why Justin Fontaine finished 20th in the league in points per 60. And if you go and look at how Minnesota's forwards were used last season, you see it's because he played some of the worst competition opponents had to offer — quality of competition matters, after all — and also had the highest PDO. So that's the mystery solved. But also, if the PDO were normal and the competition a little better, one might conclude that giving Fontaine a bit more to do wouldn't be a bad course of action for his coach.
As I wrote on Monday, this is the lesson learned, to some extent, with Jake Voracek in Philadelphia. He had been used largely in a lesser role in both Columbus and his first season in Philly. The rate stats said maybe he might do well against tougher competition, so he got paired with Claude Giroux. We all know how that worked out.
Now, the Giroux/Voracek experiment just as easily might have failed, and then he goes back to a smaller role and maybe continues bludgeoning lesser opponents. Having guys like that is valuable as well, but the point is that all these stats need to be viewed in context, not a vacuum where rate stats are the only thing that matters. Again, any even remotely serious person who works with these numbers knows this inherently.
Meanwhile, rate stats in any single season can get weird for any number of reasons, just like counting stats. The whole, “The guy with 25 goals is better than the guy with 20,” argument is really shortsighted. Tyler Bozak had more goals than Matt Duchene last season, and also in 2011-12. Could you say he had a better year in those seasons? Sure, but is he a better hockey player? Obviously not.
Here's the other thing with rate stats: Over several years, just like anything else, they begin to line up with counting stats, and what we actually know about player quality, pretty effectively. Here's the top 20 for guys with 1,500 minutes played over the last three seasons:
There are still some iffy guys on that list (Pascal Dupuis and Kyle Okposo get on as a benefit of riding sidecar for big-time players, for instance), but a lot of this checks out.
This whole thing, though, once again shows the misconceptions people who just say “stats are bad” or “stats are overrated” actually have when it comes to how they're applied. The issue is indeed the practical application of these numbers; with Bozak, for instance, you have a guy who statistically created an obvious drag on an elite talent, but continued to be played with him anyway by a demonstrably unsuccessful coach. There have long been calls for Bozak to switch places with Nazem Kadri as the Leafs' top center as a result. Once again, we don't necessarily know that Kadri will for-sure perform better than Bozak, but if he does, then using the numbers to evaluate the situation proves useful.
Not that any of this is hard to grasp, and I'm sure all the people who think rate stats are dumb and coaches or general managers are the ultimate and infallible arbiters of player quality will just say I'm an idiot for this too. It's August, and someone brought it up. What do you want from me?
3. The Winter Classic logos
They are both great. Still don't know what the jerseys will look like, but the historical comparisons show this might just be the best-looking Winter Classic yet.
2. More buyouts
Just when you thought teams were done buying out players, it turns out: No!
Starting today, three teams across the league have the chance to use buyouts on players they have lying around but don't want any more, which go into effect three days after arbitration rulings. Some more will be coming down the pike as well.
The ones going into effect today? The Leafs, Senators, and Wild. The question is whether they'll actually be used, and on whom. The obvious candidate in Toronto is Stephane Robidas who is old, bad, and signed for two more years because Dave Nonis was really really good at his job. The obvious candidate for Minnesota is Niklas Backstrom, who is also old and bad, and constantly injured. There is no truly obvious candidate for the Senators, but it wouldn't be a shock to see them use the option on, say, Milan Michalek (two more years at $4 million per) or Chris Phillips (next year only at $2.5 million), or even Colin Greening (two more at $2.65 million per???).
Of course, it's also possible — though not exactly probable — that none of these things happen. And here's something to keep in mind if you buy out a guy over the age of 35: It provides no cap relief. The team gets to pay him less money, and they get him the hell off the roster, but they don't actually save anything against the ceiling. It's a wise little CBA move that theoretically prevents rich teams from loading up on veterans with long-term, big-money deals and then buying them out when they hit 35.
So in the case of Toronto or Minnesota, such buyouts wouldn't actually benefit them in terms of cap flexibility, but getting Robidas and Backstrom off the roster might be worth the effort because it frees up space for someone for whom they actually have plans in the future.
Unfortunately for the rest of the league, these buyout players don't then represent bargains, as has been the case in the past (i.e. Alex Semin being bought out ended up benefiting the Canadiens because he signed for short money and should exceed the value of that contract if all goes well). If you sign either Robidas or Backstrom, assuming they are bought out, they'd be a waste of money and a roster spot even at league minimum.
1. Going Advanced
That includes NHL Network, NHL.com, streaming video, and so on. Allllllllllll of this is good news. The NHL's website is awful, the NHL Network is often bad, and GameCenter Live is almost unwatchable for like 60 percent of any game you're trying to watch.
And the fact that all this results in $600 million coming into the league? Also good, for everyone.
The biggest and best change will be on the NHL Network, no doubt, where there's a possibility of more live events and things that make people actually want to tune in, instead of Kevin Weekes lazily walking us through the same Hurricanes highlight package every 15 minutes on NHL Tonight. Bell was doing a flat-out bad job with the property, and MLB Advanced Media has a track record of keeping things high-quality.
And as for GameCenter Live? Well, it can't get much worse than it currently is, even past the blackout restrictions that don't make any sense. But MLBAM has a lot of high-quality streaming services in its portfolio already, including WatchESPN, the WWE Network, and HBO Now.
In a lot of cases here, there was nowhere to go but up. But with MLBAM on the case, it's going to be way, way up.
(Not ranked this week: Not going advanced enough.
There is, however, a downside to the above new media partnership.
It seems as though the new deal with MLBAM and the NHL will not prohibit the obnoxious hockey gif community from continuing to make gifs of every eight-foot pass in the league this upcoming season. Christ, we're even getting gifs of plays from U20 orientation camps this week.
It's too much. Stop the gifs. By legal means. Put the gif-ers in jail.)
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.
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