Let There Be Music – And Some Wins, Please

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I was working on something special in my secret lair.  Here it is, in honour of the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs’ season:  The Toronto Maple Leafs Song. (Update 1:12 a.m.: I’ve been trying on and off all night to post a link to the .mp3 file on this blog, but WordPress wants me to learn new swear words instead.  So here’s a link to my Tumblr, which apparently has somewhat more delicate ears. )

I can’t believe I have spent as much time as I did over the last few days working on this thing.  With Furious G on the way in about eight weeks’ time now, and a busy early 2011 ahead of me work-wise, I have a feeling that the fooling-about time I’ve managed to scrape together over the past couple of evenings may well be the last opportunity I’ll have for a while to focus on ridiculous projects, but I hope everybody in the Barilkosphere enjoys it. If nothing else, have sympathy for the brave men of The Execrables – my PPP Phantasy Puck Team sacrificed their season in the name of this little project. I just couldn’t drag myself away from the production process long enough to pay any attention at all to the fantasy draft, and the autodrafter ended up selecting such luminaries for me as “Marc Savard and his head full of Jell-O”.

Anyway, it all started when I was fooling around, rhyming “Caputi” with “Verbeauty” (the nickname some folks at Pension Plan Puppets have for Kris Versteeg).   Before too long, I ended up going Adam Sandler on the Leafs’ lineup.

Enjoy, I hope it gives you a laugh or two.

Here are the lyrics, in case anyone is interested:

THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS SONG

Toronto is the centre of the world
Maybe not, but it’s where the Leaf flag gets unfurled
Our teams have missed the playoffs for many, many years
But this group of Leaf players is tops with the Barilkosphere.

‘Cause we’ve got filthy Phil Kessel, he’s Tyler Bozak’s wing
Kulie and Grabbo just keep on attacking
Monster and Jiggy will prove your offence lacking
While Colton Orr and Komisarek will give you a shellacking
Colby Armstrong has a job cause Matt Stajan was sent packing
Let’s hope we’ll all be cheering wins instead of Prozac-ing

We might not still be playing, when May turns into June
But that’s okay we’ll draft our way to the top
(Wait, what?) Too soon!

Tomas Kaberle makes cross-ice pass like you won’t believe
Still some folks dream of draft picks that we might receive
But I say to keep him, he’s talented and handsome
He better be – he’s passing to John Mitchell and Christian Hanson!
Francois Beauchemin, Luca Caputi
Nobody dangles like Kadri and Verbeauty!
Dion Phaneuf will do his Captain’s duty
And ladies tell me that Luke Schenn looks good in a suit-y
Mueller, Blacker and Aulie all seem like good recruitys
Ian White’s moustache is gone now but we’ve got Mike Brown’s fu manchu-ty

It might not be so bad, now that Toskala’s gone
Forget about the last few years, and help me sing this song:

I like Gunnarson’s acuity, hope Sjostrom stays here too-ity
Jeff Finger’s large annuity makes him a Marlie in perpetuity.
Let there be no ambiguity, show the Leafs that you are true-ity
Habs fans have no clue-ity, and Sens fans are sniffing glue-ity
Support your Toronto Maple Leafs, with all your ingenuity
Engage in promiscuity, if you can find someone who’ll do it-y
Just be sure there’s continuity, in your support for white and blue-ity.

Put on your white and blue
Make some noise and ballyhoo
Even if you speak Urdu
And haven’t watched hockey hitherto
Plan to use a big kazoo
Just be sure you follow through
Bang a chair with a wooden shoe
Make some noise for the white and blue
And
Go
Leafs
Go!

Coaching Effect Continued

A few days ago, tentative as a newborn horse, I took my first steps towards bashing together some statistical analysis of my own. I was trying to help address one specific issue that might be relevant to the upcoming Leafs’ season: against which statistical measuring geegaws, come the end of the season, should we assess the performance of the team’s coaching staff?  In other words, what numbers should I look at to try and figure out whether Ron Wilson and his staff are doing a good job?

The first conclusion I came to was that it is incredibly difficult,  possibly related to some sort of an international conspiracy, to embed any kind of a chart in WordPress.  The second, perhaps more illuminating conclusion was that there appear to be wide year-to-year, essentially random, variations in teams’ goals for and goals against ledgers.  Absent an enormous – on the order of 20% or more – change, therefore, it is probably not possible to confidently ascribe any meaning to differences in the year to year totals.  In other words, if you’re trying to divine something about the efficacy of an NHL team’s coaching staff, you might as well dig through goat entrails as comb through the Goals For and Goals Against numbers.  They’re likely equally informative on the subject.

After I posted the raw data, it occurred to me that the changes to last year’s Leafs roster following January 31st (hereinafter known throughout the land of Blue and White as “Emancipation from Vesa Toskala Day”) might illustrate the point too.  It occurred to me that, given the large turnover of the roster on that day (White, Hagman, Mayers, Blake, Stajan and Toskala all out, Phaneuf, Giguere and Sjostrom in, plus help summoned from the minors), you might look at the first 57 games as one season, and the final 25 games as another mini season.  I thought this would be interesting because, given the Olympic break and the compressed schedule (25 games in 68 days, including the three week break, so really 25 games in about 47 days), it was not very likely that any substantial on-ice instruction could occur in the post-trade timeframe.  In other words, examining the pre- and post-trade data separately comes very close to affording an opportunity to examine two data sets in isolation from the coaching effect – because no significant coaching of a substantially changed team could have occurred following the trade.

Based on the subtraction of the alleged goaltending of Vesa Toskala alone, I felt confident that the Leafs’ goals against numbers would be vastly improved in the post-trade period.  A quick look at Figure 1 (oooh, how text book-y of me) shows that the data bear out that assumption:

Vesa Toskala's Goaltending Ought to be Tried for Crimes Against Humanity
Fig. 1: Things Got Better When Dion Came and Toskala Left

As you can see, I’ve taken the actual data observed in both the pre- and post-trade period and prorated them over 82 games to try and get to a place where we can compare apples to apples.  Interestingly, the Leafs scoring prowess *cough* remained essentially undisturbed, as Dion Phaneuf’s Leafs continued to put biscuits in the basket at almost exactly the same rate as Team Stajan (213 GF vs. 214).   As suspected, goals against took a nose-dive when Toskala was deported, changing the Leafs from a 283 goals against squad to a team that was on pace to have given up 216 over an 82 game schedule.

First things first: to go back to the original point of the exercise, the Leafs changed from a team that would surrender 283 goals over an 82 game schedule to a team that would cough up 216, and that had to have happened in an atmosphere when the coaches were unable to get the team together for any substantial on-ice drills or systems instruction.  In other words, the goals against dropped by approx 67 total goals or .8 GA per game without any significant contributing coaching effect

Some other things caught my eye about the data, though:  to put the apparent change in the Leafs’ defensive prowess following the Phaneuf and Giguere trades, remember that the Leafs’ went from a 283 GA pace to a 216 GA pace.   The Edmonton Oilers, who finished in 30th place in the league last year, and who finished the season with the league-worst goals against total, gave up 284 opposition tallys.  By contrast, 216 goals against, would have put the Leafs tied with Detroit for the 8th best GA number in the league, behind only San Jose, New Jersey, Phoenix, Chicago, Calgary, Buffalo and Boston.  Among that group, only Calgary failed to reach the playoffs.  That would be the same Calgary team that finished the year with Matt Stajan and Vesa Toskala on its roster.  See how these things come full circle?

Lastly, I hadn’t realized that the Leafs’ GF rate went virtually unchanged in the post-trade period.  It’s almost difficult to believe that a team could trade their then  top point-getter (Stajan), their then leading goal scorer (Hagman) and their 2nd leading point scorer among defencemen (White), yet suffer virtually no drop off in their offensive success rate  (source: NHL.com story).  They also traded Jason Blake who, when not skating eighteen laps around the offensive zone in the course of a seven-minute shift, then firing a 45 foot shoot into the precise geographic middle of the goaltender’s chest protector, occasionally seemed to rack up some points.

This last point screams out to me that the players the Leafs shipped out on the 31st were nothing truly special, just a bunch of guys who got points because they were there, the skating embodiment of the “replacement player” involved in GVT calculations.  I can’t support that hypothesis at this point with any hard data, but it sure looks like the points that those stiffs collected were the points that would be collected by whichever collection of stiffs the Leafs chose to throw over the boards (with apologies to Nicklas Hagman and Ian White for the “stiff” thing.  I liked you both).

Obviously, there are dangers involved in extrapolating full season numbers out of smaller data sets;  it’s exactly that process that every year has some idiot projecting that [insert random scrub here] “is on pace for a 164 goal season this year” as the highlights of his two-goal first game roll on TSN.   I understand the dangers of paying too much attention to data from small sample sizes.

In fact, that last point – small sample size – got me thinking about another possible explanation for the Leafs’ apparent improvement in the post-trade period, one that I hope to take a look at in the next post in this series.   Stay tuned.

Welcome, Hope. We Thought You’d Never Get Here.

It was only one game.  One game in another lost season;  one game against a (recently) struggling Eastern Conference opponent and their backup goaltender.

Still, tonight’s 3-0 Leaf victory finally gave more than a little reason for hope to long-suffering Leaf fans.  There was a goaltender in our net who made saves and who seemed confident about it.  There was a beast of defenceman, Phaneuf, thumping offensive interlopers.  Nikolai Kulemin was driving to the net, taking the puck through the middle of the ice decisively and in such a way as to create some worried moments for opposition defenders.  Frederik Sjostrom showed some determination and self-sacrifice on the penalty kill and – for what may be the first time this year, at least for a Maple Leaf defender – forcing an opposition defenseman to abort the plan to shoot and dump off a “second-best” pass instead.  There was a power play goal from Francois Beauchemin.

More generally, for the very first time this year, our team came out ready to play from the opening faceoff.  If this trade has changed nothing else but the Leafs’ alarming tendency to tentatively piss away at least the first ten minutes of every game, frequently surrendering the lead and always ceding the momentum, it will have been worth it.

It was only one game; there are no guarantees that this widespread improvement will last.  A lot of the numbers suggest that there are still lots of difficult times ahead for a Maple Leafs time that has little by way of  personnel on the forward lines who have proven they can score in the NHL (at least beyond Phil Kessel).   The goaltender’s performance has been trending downwards for a while, and the defence have struggled to shut the door on a consistent basis.  All of these things demand that one keep perspective and remember that you cannot infer the existence of a trend from a small sample size of data.  It was only one game.  For the first time this year, though, I felt like watching one Leaf game tonight wasn’t enough.

———

As an aside, shoutouts to eyebleaf of Sports in the City who (fittingly enough) headed off for a lengthy trip to India earlier this evening.  I say “fittingly enough” because eye has been one of the few consistently positive voices in the Barilkosphere;  there is something fitting about eye beginning a lengthy holiday on the very day that hope seemed to walk in the front door of the Air Canada Centre for the first time in a long time.  After working so diligently over the last couple of years to ensure that at least some of us can see the bright side of things, eye can finally move on to other adventures.  Safe travels, brother, you will be missed in these parts, but we look forward to your return.