Blog Interrupted: Explanatory Explanation Dept.

Yes, yes, I know.  I’ve been neglecting you for a few days.  Aside from the occasional tale of nocturnal chaos, it’s been pretty slim pickin’s around here.

As usual, it’s been busy , but I’m not going to rely on that old excuse for my postFAILage.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing over the last week or so, just not for this site.  For starters, I have finally completed the script I mentioned some time ago.  Tough slogging for me;  not the kind of writing I’m used to doing at all – it needed to be informative and authentic, but youthful, was based primarily around dialog and I was pretty much completely unable to use any profanity – so I found it very difficult.  Anyway, that’s one project finished (sort of*) which is something I am going to choose to be proud of, seeing as I am still laughably “working” away at NaNoReMo 2008.

In addition, I’ve been working on a piece about the NHL trade deadline and the reasonable expectations that Toronto Maple Leaf fans should have of their angry Irish overlord Mr. Burke over the next few days as the rebuild begins in earnest and – perhaps – various pieces of the team are dispersed across the continent in an effort to re-stock the MLSE cupboards.  It’s not finished yet;  I am hoping that a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and a nice pot of tea will do the trick in that regard early tomorrow morning.  I will post that as soon as I am finished;  hopefully BEFORE the trade deadline actually passes…

I’ve also been moved to put virtual pen to paper on a few occasions over at Leaf-fan uber-site Pension Plan Puppets.  It’s been a busy week over there;  first, there was the return of Mats Sundin to the Air Canada Centre last Saturday night, an emotional evening for all Leafs fans and an event that had us strangely and bitterly divided about how to receive our former Captain.  I spent quite a bit of time defending Sundin and encouraging anyone who would listen to take the longer view and give Mats his due when he stepped on the ice (and I’m pleased to report that Leafs fans chose to do exactly that when Sundin was feted with a tribute video at the first TV timeout during that game.  Then there was the whole  “Brian Burke” controversy, during which Down Goes Brown nearly broke the Internets by continuing to tweet as “Brian Burke”, making humourous and insulting observations about various people around the NHL in a tour de force of parody;  the problem was that some people didn’t get the point of the joke and couldn’t find their ass with a map and a flashlight, never mind grasp the nature of DGB’s jest.  There were also three game threads to enjoy in the virtual company of my homies the Triple P peeps.  The last of these games – versus the Islanders on Thursday night – also produced the outrageous Brendan Witt elbow to Niklas Hagman’s head.   I wrote a quick piece last night (posted at PPP) about the usefulness of the Tie Domi/Scott Niedermayer incident in the 2001 playoffs as a useful comparator for measuring the appropriate suspension that Leafs fans were sure had to inevitably be coming.

Although the NHL maintains that it is cracking down on disgraceful and gratuitous cheap shots like this, the kind that endangers the health and safety of the players that put the bread on the suits’ feasting table, there was nary a mention of this incident in the press coverage early this morning.  What mention there was in the papers was only as necessarily incidental to explaining how it came to pass that both the Leafs and Isles scored in the course of a major penalty imposed upon Witt in the 3rd period.  In fact, there was virtually no discussion of the incident at all until after the NHL imposed – in its infinite wisdom – a 5 game suspension on Witt.

I spent much of this evening writing about this last decision;  as it happens, Witt will serve his suspension just in time to return for the rematch festivities in Toronto on March 10th.  I refuse to believe this is a mere coincidence, and I am appalled by the league’s ridiculous decision to arrange things so as to enable Witt to play in this game.   That, as they say, has put the cat among the pigeons indeed.

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*of course, there’s the inevitable re-write to do now.  And filming.  And editing.  So…..more projects.

Jason Blake: When More is Less

Tonight, over at Pension Plan Puppets, in the Leafs/Bruins live game thread, mf37 posted some numbers about Jason Blake’s shooting percentage.  Essentially, the stats indicated that, between 2003 and 2007 (i.e. during his final seasons with the Islanders), Blake’s shooting percentage doubled (and in ’07 nearly tripled) over his then current career average.  Since joining the Leafs (and signing a hefty five-year contract – curse you, JFJ!) his shooting percentage has dropped to a number so low, you’d think it was expressing a person’s chance of getting hit by lightning while winning the lottery, being abducted by our alien overlords and riding a three-legged dog backwards to a nineteen length Triple Crown victory.

It got me thinking…

Observed phenomenon: Jason Blake takes a lot of shots from “the perimeter”, which is a polite way of saying that he was standing in the parking lot and unable to directly observe his intended target at the time of launching.

Known facts, and important (but blindingly obvious) inference to be drawn from them: NHL goalies (with the lamentable and all-too obvious exception of Andrew Raycroft) are not blind.  Most of them (again, except for Raycroft) have the ability to exert some amount of control over the movement of their extremities.  As a result, NHL goaltenders only infrequently whiff on shots taken from different continents.  Shooting from long distances is not, therefore, an effective strategy of scoring goals.

Statistical evidence:

This is what hockey-reference.com has to say about what Jason Blake has done in his career, in terms of offensive performance:

Season Team GP SOG/G S Pct. AVG TOI
1998-99 Los Angeles Kings 1 5 20 17:13
1999-00 Los Angeles Kings 64 2.05 3.8 11:17
2000-01 L.A./NY Islanders. 47 2.13 5 13:40
2001-02 New York Islanders 82 1.66 5.9 12:54
2002-03 New York Islanders 81 3.12 9.9 17:38
2003-04 New York Islanders 75 3.24 9.1 18:49
2005-06 New York Islanders 76 4 9.2 18:47
2006-07 New York Islanders 82 3.72 13.1 18:09
2007-08 Toronto Maple Leafs 82 4.05 4.5 17:49
2008-09 Toronto Maple Leafs 13 4.07 3.8 16:35
Career 3.08 8.1 16:22

Legend: GP = Games Played, SOG/G=Shots on Goal per game, S Pct.=Shooting Percentage, AVG TOI=Average time on ice.

Throw out the ’98-99 season (small sample size) and this year (small sample, incomplete data), and you’re left with 8 (more or less) complete seasons to consider.  Here’s what I noticed:  beginning in 2002, Blake’s average time on the ice per game goes way up – increasing by almost 40% from about 13 minutes a game in ’01/’02 to almost 18 minutes a game in ’02-’03.  Also in 2002, the goals start to bang home for Jason, as his shooting percentage jumps to 9.9%;  prior to that, Blake was lighting the lamp at something like a 4 to 6% clip.  Blake’s average ice time stays pretty steady, from then on, in the 18-19 minutes per game region.

Now look at what happens to his shots on goal per game.  That figure jumps from a career low 1.66 per game in  ’01-’02 to 3.12 per game the very next season – the same season his average icetime increases by 40% per game.

What the numbers show is that beginning in 2002/03, Blake was spending about 40% more time on the ice than he had before, but he began shooting the puck about twice as often as in the past.  That’s a lot of extra shots, proportionally, to fit into the extra ice time.  For a few years with the Islanders, it seems to have worked out because he was scoring goals roughly twice as often too, at the 9 – 13% clip.

Consider these numbers in the context of a hypothesis:  a tired skater is more likely to shoot the puck from a long distance. Rather than skate and drive towards the net, a fatigued player will – more often than not – elect to shoot from where he is when he receives the puck.

Blake is playing about just a bit less now than he did in his final years with the Islanders (the years of 9-13% shooting success).  He is shooting the puck about the same number of times, on average, if not a little bit more.  We have observed that – since he’s been in Toronto, anyway – he frequently shoots the puck from long distances.  It is unlikely that Blake was shooting from these distances while in Long Island;  it simply beggars belief that they’d be going in as frequently as they did for him;  it would take a major league marathon of sustained and repeated whiffage by a series of goaltenders, over a period of four years, for that to be true.   The key point is this – the long shots we’ve seen Blake take as a Leaf aren’t being taken in addition to the blasts he habitually took when he was an Islander.

Rather, I think the data suggest that Blake is currently replacing shots from closer in to the net  (i.e the quality shots he took as an Islander) with long distance bombs that have little or no chance of success.  One obvious explanation for that phenomenon is related to the “tired players take long shots” theory.  In short, the numbers suggest that  – now in his mid 30s, and with well-documented health concerns – Blake may well not be up to the challenge physically, and that fatigue or lack of conditioning is preventing him from scoring at the rate he previously did.

Discuss.  Am I missing something?

I love a good Poti joke.

Admittedly, it is difficult to point to a document entitled “Barry Melrose Rocks” with a straight face and claim some sort of vindication.  Nevertheless, on the subject of Bryan McCabe, I plan to do so.   Here is what was recently written on that site concerning the Leaf blueliner:

…Toronto running Bryan McCabe out of town. Look, if they don’t want a defender who has averaged 59 points and a +15 rating over the last three seasons, then so be it. I’m probably not alone when I say I’ll take him on Long Island. Heck, there’s probably a bunch of teams that would find a good use for this guy. OK, so McCabe can be a bit of a defensive liability. I can live with that. We had Tom Freaking Poti all of last year for God’s sake. All I’m saying is that one dumb mistake is no reason to run a guy out of town. Then again, the folks in Toronto may be right. The Leafs will obviously be a much better team without the guy who outscored every forward on the team last year save for Mats Sundin.

And for those of you scoring at home, you have to go all the way back to Denis Potvin to find the last Islander defender to have 59 points in a season.

I would not be the first to observe that the Islanders of recent history haven’t exactly been dynastic, a fact that makes the last sentence admittedly somewhat less emphatic than it might otherwise be.  But the above-noted judgement is not devoid of value simply because it emanates from within the (presumably success-starved) Islanders fan camp.   No doubt, somebody wearing a Captain Highliner jersey would point out that the Isles beat the Leafs for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot last year (remember Wade Dubliewicz?).  It should also not be forgotten that McCabe played three seasons at the beginning of his career on the Island – though Bryan himself might like to erase those years from his memory banks.  The point remains:  appreciate the guy for the player he is, and realize that there is often a bit of a defensive price to pay for offensive talent in a point man. 

Don’t make me put Tom Poti out there to make you see the difference.

Free Agent Frenzy

So, that magical midsummer day is over.   Okay, maybe not “magical”, but it was Canada Day, so that made it feel kind of special. 

July 1st has come and gone and all the pretenders have tried to become contenders by throwing money at a (for the most part, in my opinion) badly over-hyped crop of free agents.  The New York Rangers, it has to be said, managed to land two quality fish in this year’s tournament.  Both Gomez and Drury are quality players who have shown themselves to be character guys in the early portion of their respective careers.  The Blueshirts will be a more potent threat up front than many of their Eastern Conference rivals.  I would suggest it is a mistake, however, to label the Rangers “instant contenders” as some have done.  There are glaring holes on defence that will be exposed come playoff time ’08 unless Slats gets some help fast.   Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers are better and have virtually assured themselves a spot in the big tournament if only through the attrition suffered by their rivals, notably New Jersey (hey, Devils fans – ouch!), the Sabres (hey Buffalo fans – that smarts!) and the Islanders (hey Islander fan – you two, Mr. and Mrs. DiPietro – you have our condolences);  but teams don’t dance the final dance on the card unless their are proven and capable defenders able to carry the load. 

In that regard, don’t you just hate the Red Wings?  They lose a guy like Mathieu Schneider, who admittedly played a key role in the Wings’ playoff run and whose absence after he was injured hurt them more than any Leaf fan with a memory could possibly imagine – and promptly fill the hole with Brian Rafalski.  Do you mind?   For those of you uncertain of my meaning, imagine you are in the parking lot at Wal-Mart, and your ’92 Dodge Neon gets clipped by a delivery truck.   The company is apologetic, they offer to fix your car, pay for the damage and get you a loaner while you wait for the return of your vehicle – and the loaner is a Ferrari Testarossa.   Um, and you don’t have to give the loaner back.  Actually, given the Red Wings’ embarrassment of riches over the last few years, the metaphor would be better like this:  Lance McCoolguy, the all-city quarterback for your high school football team, is driving  in the parking lot of some cool nightclub that you’ve never even heard of, when the club owner accidentally knocks over some post attached to the velvet ropes that keep people like you out of the club, and the post hits Lance’s cherry red Ferrarri Testarossa, which the owner offers to replace with – a brand new Ferrari Testarossa!  I hate you, Lance, and I hate the Red Wings too!  Do you see how I have used the power of metaphor to make you the subject of scorn and derision, driven mostly by insane puerile jealousy?

Finally, with respect to my beloved Leafs, I am somewhat encouraged.   The Leafs’ need for a scoring forward to roll with Sundin has been obvious.  I am glad the person designated to fill that role is NOT Daniel Briere, who I thought disappeared through critical portions of the Sabres’ recent playoff loss to the Rangers.   Any fan of any team would have liked to see Ryan Smyth don the local jersey, but I think the Avs overpaid for him (as the Rangers probably did for Drury, too).   The player the Leafs did get, Jason Blake, seems like a good fit and it appears as though the Leafs got him for a reasonable price.  This coming on the heels of the acquisition of Vesa Toskala – an upgrade in the goaltending department – is almost enough to wash the bitter taste out of my mouth from draft day – you know, the one that began around the time that the Hawks picked first over all and kept growing and growing until sometime THE NEXT DAY when John Ferguson, Jr. finally picked our first player, the future former professional hockey player Dale Mitchell like 74th overall.   

But please, JFJ, remeber that sitting on your arse all day at the draft only makes sense if you are going to win NOW.  Because if you don’t win NOW, and you have sat on your arse at the draft, we won’t be winning later either.