Ten Points: Yakupov, RNH, and the Leafs as the worst franchise in pro sports

Jonathan Willis
September 10 2012 07:54PM

Nail Yakupov (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

1. A year in Russia? With the end of the collective bargaining agreement rapidly approaching – it expires on Saturday – the possibility of Nail Yakupov spending part or all of the year in the KHL is very real.

Yakupov would play for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, the team that selected him 19th overall back in the 2010 KHL Draft. The club also happens to be his hometown team, and the last few seasons has been decidedly overmatched by other KHL clubs. Still playing for a weaker team probably means more ice-time and it isn’t likely to hurt him – Alex Ovechkin played one year and Evgeni Malkin two in Russia after being drafted before coming to North America, and the KHL is the world’s second-best league.

2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is much worse in the faceoff circle than Anton Lander. The raw percentages paint a similar picture – a picture of two rookies who stunk in the faceoff circle last year. Anton Lander won 43.3 percent of his draws; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won 37.5 percent. The gap, though, is actually much wider. While both players took most of their draws at even-strength, Nugent-Hopkins’ extra work came on the power play (where it’s easier to win faceoffs) while Lander’s work came on the PK (where it’s much harder to win faceoffs. At even-strength? Lander won 45.8 percent of his draws (not bad for a rookie) while Nugent-Hopkins won 37.1 percent.

3. The NHLPA’s next move. Today, we saw the opening moves of post-negotiation NHLPA strategy, and is expected it is to the courts. Unlike other major leagues, the NHL has a significant Canadian presence, which opens Canadian law to the players as an avenue to prevent a lockout. In Quebec, the union has asked the courts to rule against a lockout on the grounds that the NHLPA is not certified as a union in that province, while they're looking at their options throughout the country and are pushing in Alberta as well.

Whether it will work, I don’t know. What I do know is that this path also ultimately leads to decertification – the elimination of the NHLPA as a union. If that happens, the NHL’s presence in Canada should offer it a jurisdictional advantage that other associations haven’t had in fighting their leagues.

4. McKenzie’s take on a lockout. I’m a big fan of Bob McKenzie, and his offering on the current CBA battle only reinforces that position. I have some quibbles – I think calling the last lockout a battle of principle is too generous to both sides – but on the whole it’s a balanced, detailed assessment of where the league is at now. The one real negative? He’s not optimistic; this is the concluding line from his first paragraph: “And to think we're likely just taking the first few steps this week towards walking through what is likely to be a very long, dark tunnel.”

5. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the worst franchise in major league sports. This according to ESPN. On the one hand, Toronto has stable ownership, the team is basically a license to print money, and their fans are as ridiculously devoted as any in pro sports. On the other hand, the richest team in hockey owns both the longest championship drought and longest streak without a playoff appearance in the NHL. So, yeah.

Then again, any list that puts the Phoenix Coyotes as he best franchise in the NHL and the Leafs as the worst is clearly not being written from an ownership perspective.

Jiri Tlusty, Toronto's first-round pick in 2006 (Benjamin Reed/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0)

6. If you’re going to be bad, go all the way. The Edmonton Oilers own the second-longest playoff drought in the NHL, at six seasons – just one less than Toronto. Fortunately for the Oilers, they haven’t just missed the playoffs; they’ve missed by a mile. With the departure of Luke Schenn, not one of the Leafs first-round picks in that span is a full-time player for them as of now (Nazem Kadri, with 21 games last season, comes closest). The Oilers have four, and that’s not counting Magnus Paajarvi or Nail Yakupov.

7. WOWY analysis doesn’t always mean what we think it does. WOWY – or with and without you – is a favoured method of various stat-heads to try and ferret out individual contributions. When players frequently spend time together, it can be difficult to identify statistically which player is driving the play. To compensate, one method of analysis is to compare how a player performed with and without a given linemate. So, to pick an Oilers example, let’s look at Ryan Smyth’s Corsi rating (Corsi is a plus/.minus measure of goals, shots, missed shots and blocked shots at even-strength and correlates closely to scoring chances) with and without Shawn Horcoff:

So, Smyth spent almost equal amounts of time with and without Horcoff, and the team seems to have done better when Smyth played with Horcoff. Additionally Horcoff’s numbers without Smyth are just a whisker lower that with him (46.9 percent of Corsi events were positive). So, we might conclude that a) Horcoff was the player driving the line and b) playing with Horcoff was beneficial for Smyth. Those things may or may not be true, but it would be a mistake to conclude them. Here are Smyth’s numbers with and without Devan Dubnyk:

Now, if we take that data and use it in the same way, we might conclude that Smyth should be a healthy scratch in games where Devan Dubnyk plays. That would be wrong, though; in reality all we’re seeing here is timing – Smyth was hot early in the year (when Khabibulin played a lot) and cold late in the year (when Dubnyk played a lot). It looks superficially like Dubnyk made Smyth a worse player, but that’s not what’s going on.

The point here is just that there are other factors and when doing this sort of analysis it’s important to be cognizant of them. It’s still a useful tool, but it needs to be used carefully.

8. Other factors and ‘Record with Player X in the lineup.’ The previous point is also something to keep in mind on a more general level. For instance, take this quote from Sportsnet’s community boards back in February:

I think someone mentioned it in the game thread, but our record with and without Barker is night and day. Is it just a coincidence, or does his first pass out help that much? We are 10-2-1 with him in the lineup and 11-23-3 without him. I know, we have to see him in more games, and there are other circumstances, but that is a huge difference in win %. Maybe he's our good luck charm.

The Oilers went 3-7-2 over the last 12 games Barker played.

All that was happening was that Cam Barker was in the lineup early in the season during Nikolai Khabibulin’s hot streak, and injured right about the time the Oilers started losing. This is known as “correlation does not equal causation” or put another way “just because a guy’s in the car doesn’t mean he was driving.”

9. Correlation ≠ Causation, Part II. Sometimes, wearing a given pair of socks, underwear or arrangement of facial hair coincides with a winning/losing streak. Additionally, sometimes betting on a victory coincides with a loss, or vice versa. Sometimes, shortly after speculating that a goalie will get a shutout, the other team scores a goal.

These are not related events. They are coincidences.

10. Remembering Igor Korolev. This past Friday was the one year anniversary of the plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. One of those killed was assistant coach Igor Korolev. I’ve been re-reading Dave King’s excellent book King of Russia, and he sings Korolev’s praises; one anecdote in the book was this one:

Psychologically, the pivotal moment in the game came during the second period with the score tied. Once again, we were killing what seemed to be an endless supply of penalties when Igor Korolev went down to block a shot. There was a collision, the other guy fell too, and Igor received a skate cut for twenty-three stitches. It was so bad that our doctor was practically throwing up. He told us, “Igor’s out for the game for sure.” I thought, Well, we’ll see. So they took him to the dressing room, where Igor got mad at the doctor because he was taking all day to get the job done. He thought Igor was done for the night. Igor, meanwhile, barked, “Get me sewed up, I’m going back.” The doctor said, “You can’t go back. Igor said, “Get the stitches in because I am going back.” So the doctor finally got off his butt, put the stitches in, and about three minutes into the third period, down the runway, here comes Igor Korolev with a great big patch over his eye, blood all over his sweater and his face. He was back.

Korolev left behind a wife and two daughters; he and his family became Canadian citizens in 2000. He was just one of the 44 people to die in that crash.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
Avatar
#1 yawto
September 10 2012, 08:03PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
2
props

I just hope all our fist overall picks play.in Edmonton some time this year.

Avatar
#3 Krusher
September 10 2012, 08:06PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
2
props

"Then again, any list that puts the Phoenix Coyotes as he best franchise in the NHL and the Leafs as the worst is clearly not being written from an ownership perspective".

That article in ESPN was an absolute joke. As much as it was fun to see the Leafs ranked last, having Phoenix as the best franchise was a laugh. Absolutely no credibility in my humble opinion.

Avatar
#4 The Real Scuba Steve
September 10 2012, 08:52PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

The Edmonton Oilers own the second-longest playoff drought in the NHL, At the last lockout I thought this was the thing of the past but I didn't think the Oilers would be worst than before the lockout. Now we need a new area to compete with the rest of the NHL what's next?

Avatar
#5 Jerod
September 10 2012, 09:40PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

How would the 2013 draft work if there was no season this year?

Avatar
#6 Sanaa Montana
September 10 2012, 09:47PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
1
props

1.) It is sad that NHL is considered the best hockey league in the world, very sad.

2.) Lander will become one of the best 3rd line centres in the league once he hits his stride, maybe even 2nd.

3.) NHLPA should grow up and go play hockey. A person's maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play.

4.) What about Bob?

5.) If your team suck at sport and you think you're New York, you're Toronto.

6.) Kadri has a sexy cousin here in the city.

7.) Was WOWY created for the Horcoff arguements sake?

8.) Is Barker a dog with no bite?

9.) Chance or Reason?

10.) R.I.P God Bless.

Avatar
#7 Rowan
September 10 2012, 09:48PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

And now for something completely different.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xjxo4b_mrs-brown-gets-a-bikini-wax_shortfilms

Avatar
#8 Kert
September 10 2012, 09:55PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

WOWY analysis doesn’t always mean what we think it does.

The other thing to consider is how a player is used. When player A plays with player B and player B always has tough assignments you'd expect player B to look bad on player A's WOWY. In your example you used corsi which is good at tracking where the puck is while the player is on the ice, it would be unfair to not take into account where the puck starts. Playing with Horcoff and his 44% zone starts is different than playing with RNH and his 63% zone starts. So someone might look great playing with RHN while looking worse playing with #10, but that might be more to do with their task than their chemistry.

Avatar
#10 justDOit
September 10 2012, 11:35PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Regardless of what that ESPN article suggests, when your play-by-play guy needs to use his catch phrase on a goal like that, you're the worst franchise in sports. Sacred blanket, indeed!

Korolev - probably one of the grittiest players to play the game. He was a beast on NHL 94 on Sega,IIRC. We're so full of ourselves when we say that players from country x aren't tough.

Avatar
#11 B S
September 11 2012, 12:28AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

But the Coyotes are the best franchise in the NHL, I mean it's hard not to be when you're owned by the very same league you play in. Utter Brilliance. Also the fanaticism for the Maple Leafs still scares me sometimes:"remember when we won that cup 45 years ago?", no I wasn't born then, and chances are neither were you. "remember when Sittler had that 10 point night 5 years before I was born" No, but I do remember Gagner's 8 point night, even though that was all of 7 months ago.

It's like a religion or a cult: rational arguments hold no ground against faith. A small amount of Faith is nice, even necessary, when following a sports franchise. Unfortunately, most Leafs fans I know don't have a set benchmark for failure, always believing that they're headed in the right direction and will contend next year. I can tell you that if the Oilers aren't going deep (conference finals or SC finals)in the playoffs in 5 years I'll consider it a failure.

Avatar
#12 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
September 11 2012, 08:24AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Any team opperating on a shoe string budget, with as many outside distractions as the Phoenix has and can STILL be a competitve team, with a long playoff run has to be in the running for best franchise in the league.

The current Coyotes success would have basically been the equivalent of a late 90's, early 2000's Oilers team if they were consistantly a strong team with with a few decent playoff runs.

Avatar
#13 bsmart
September 11 2012, 08:50AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I saw Justin Schultz last night at Roxette concert and bought him and his buddies a round. He is still quite slender but looks like he put on some weight. I would guess hes around 180-185. Pretty tall though.

I ws curious about his weight after reading earlier in the spring that he was 165 or something.

Avatar
#14 TigerUnderGlass
September 11 2012, 09:21AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@Jonathan Willis

the richest team in hockey owns both the longest championship drought and longest streak without a playoff appearance in the NHL.

This was essentially a 'fan friendliness' ranking scheme. Their lack of success plays a pretty small part in their poor showing.

The fact that they list the top 5 teams in the NHL as PHX, TBL, NJD, NAS, and STL gives this away pretty strongly.

Avatar
#15 madjam
September 11 2012, 09:28AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

ANTI-TRUST LAWS will seize to be intact once lockout is envolked and previous contract expired i believe. That's a huge hammer should Fehr follow up on top of other labour law discrepancies . Union calls in hundreds to show solidarity . Owners trying to play hardball with Fehr is liable to backfire radically this time , in stark contrast to last time .

As only way to skirt anti - trust laws is if union agrees to it in next contract , and thats iffy this time around . The playing field about to get levelled and real negotiations in good faith should begin . Don't see owners walking all over union this time around . Fehr a tough negotiator .

Avatar
#16 #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...
September 11 2012, 11:03AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

"Sometimes, wearing a given pair of socks, underwear or arrangement of facial hair coincides with a winning/losing streak. Additionally, sometimes betting on a victory coincides with a loss, or vice versa. Sometimes, shortly after speculating that a goalie will get a shutout, the other team scores a goal.

These are not related events. They are coincidences"

i hope you know your just taunting the hockey gods with that shutout comment

Avatar
#17 Spydyr
September 11 2012, 01:48PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@Aidan Hodges

2.) Lander will become one of the best 3rd line centres in the league once he hits his stride, maybe even 2nd.

Really .What is this based on.How weak his whole game was last year?

Avatar
#18 Pouzar99
September 11 2012, 02:18PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I would just like to strongly recommend that anyone interested in better understanding the CBA nightmare read Bob Mackenzie's recent blog post on the TSN site that JW mentions above. Like JW I don't agree with every detail of BM's assessment but I consider him the leading commentator on the NHL and this lengthy analysis is the best I have read on the subject. He essentially says both sides are to blame. Basically that the owners original offer was way over the top and that the NHLPA counter offer was essentially unresponsive. It is easily found and very well worth a read.

Comments are closed for this article.