May 25th, 2010

My Equally Valid Opinion

Playoffs 2.01H: Who cares about the finals when we've got UFAs?

Stay Classy posted a thing on why Anton Volchenkov shouldn't be worth five million dollars, and it got me thinkin'. The normal rationale for paying a player crazy amounts of coin (say, more than three or four million a year) to do their thing seems to be that the statistics back them up. It's easy with forwards, because outside of the odd Selke nominee, their job is to score goals. Likewise, goalies are quickly scrutinized on the basis of their GAA and save percentage (even though a goalie with no defensive support will quickly find those numbers dwindling, due to the aforementioned high-paid scoring machines comin' at them.) But a defenseman? Sure, there's plus/minus, but as SC notes that doesn't take power-play markers into account. And then there's a whole breadth of numbers like ice time per game or hits thrown, which can be quantified, but not in a way that really helps us make sense of the true skill value of the player. It seems like the "best" defenders transcend these categories to find areas they can have all to themselves, like shots blocked (A-train) or scoring streaks (Mike Green) or just bein' the tallest dude (Zdeno Chara). You might as well base the rankings on performances in the All-Star Skills Competition, and doubly so since the defense p.much gets the night off in the game itself.

What it boils down to for me is that blueliners are considered not for their actual numbers, but for the "feel" they bring to the game, as they should be. The Sens don't want to resign Volchenkov because he's putting up individual stats -- although I disagree that the shot-blocking isn't a substantial part of his game, because the bench and the crowd positively lights up every time he does it, so from a leadership point of view it's good if he does it more often -- but because he plays so well with Chris Phillips as a shutdown tandem. Gone are the days when the likes of Bobby Orr were the standard bearers: now it's all about the guys who work together. Keith & Seabrook, Pronger & Niedermayer, Redden & Chara, just to name some past and present examples. Heck, when Ottawa finally decided they couldn't keep both of those last two, there was a lot of talk about how Redden's only positive attribute was "a good first pass." What does that even mean to a statistician? Likewise, I couldn't give you numbers on how many turnovers Alexandre Picard gave up, but I was nonetheless pleased when we sent him off to Carolina. We picked up Filip Kuba because we thought he could "quarterback" our power play. I don't think there's been a single defenseman deal since the lockout that was based on stats.

It's simple, really: Ottawa probably feels that they can move ahead with their younger corps, perhaps moving the mantle of top pair onto Karlsson and Cowen in a few seasons, and save a few bucks in the process. And frankly, it'd be nice to see someone with a relatively higher profile leave this team on decent terms, instead of storming out the door without a word of explanation or getting put on waivers until the even-more-desperate team further down the highway decides to take them. Meanwhile, Washington wants a guy who can play backend doorstop to Green's all-ahead full without also being a concrete-filled goon (otherwise they might be pursuing Georges Laraque or someone like him) and they don't want anyone else stepping into the picture. Five million might be "too much" when taken in its own self-contained context, but given how easy it would be for some other team to make a counter-offer if the price tag were lower, it seems to be about right to scare off the GM collective. Where else would they spend the money, anyway? On some nonexistent goaltender-ghost? That well is dry right now, I think. Don't get me wrong, I'm gonna miss him when he's gone, but maybe losing Volchenkov is one of those pant-kicking things that gets us going next year.

And will you look at this, in all the excitement about two first-round knockouts bargaining over the guy who blocks more shots than a garage door (but still less than the guy with three times as much armor he skates in front of) I guess the playoffs are still going. Should I make a call? I'm 6 for 14 and -9 on game estimation, so let's see if I can't at least get this one right. I keep going back and forth in my head: the Blackhawks are the better team on paper, but the Flyers got it done in the comeback against Boston. If Philly wins, I get to keep making jokes about Marion Hossa; if Chi-town takes it, Toronto moves into dead last for active Cup droughts. I really dislike Chris Pronger's elbows but Byfuglien is kind of a dick too. Normally I'd use my go-to end-all preseason comparison of who's got the better backup goalie, but both teams are playing their backups already. Ultimately, I have to operate on faith: which team would I enjoy watching win more? And I keep on coming back to that old nickname that resurfaces every time Philadelphia gets anywhere this time of year: the Broad Street Bullies. I dislike bullies. I would really prefer it if the Cup went to the original-six team. So, naturally, I'll be disappointed. Philadelphia Flyers win the Stanley Cup in six games. You heard it here first.