Tag Archives: Theories

Craig MacTavish: Sometimes, it is what you don’t do that matters

What an exciting past couple of days for Oiler fans. Tambo is out and MacT is in. The Oilers have done what all poor teams do which is to distract fans from the poor performance with an offer of hope for the future. “Don’t worry about how disappointing this season has been. We have a new guy that will be a beacon of positive change. Even if he did work at TSN for a year…. That was a joke guys.”

I will admit that the new hope tactic has kind of worked on me, despite being aware of what they are doing.  I am not sure why I should believe that a charismatic individual with no practical GM experience would likely bring success. He is supported by the same boobs that have run the place into the ground over the past seven years. What has changed? I will say that MacT does have a nice head of hair and contagious smile. He just seems like a leader. Is there a particular font that should be used for sarcasm?

The bad news for me is that the firing of Tambo kind of ruined a piece related to the importance of actions one decides not to take. The notion is inspired in part from this post from Blackdog Pat. The team might have been better off doing nothing than the moves they made. It got me thinking about how value gets created and how teams get better or worse.

Value creation or destruction can occur in one of four ways:

  1. You take some action that creates value (good).
  2. You take some action that destroys value (bad).
  3. You opt to not take action on something that would have destroyed value (nice).
  4. You opt to not take action on something that would have created value (dang).

Folks tend to focus on creating value through action (#1 above). They also tend to discount or explain away actions that end up destroying value (#2). “How could we have known that bringing in Mike Brown was a complete waste of time and a draft pick?” *

* A tangent that I cannot resist for those folks that thinks Mike Brown makes the Oilers better. Envision a scenario where you have twelve Taylor Hall’s making up your four lines. Now envision eleven Taylor Hall’s and Mike Brown. Is that a better team? Of course not. Skill and skill only should be the focus of all four lines.

What folks tend to not grasp is how value is created simply by avoiding poor decisions (#3). You cannot see the non-action therefore it never seemed to have occurred. In business, most poor decisions involve acquiring other companies or taking on big, complex capital projects based on budgets that are wildly optimistic. By passing on these opportunities, value is optimized. At my last job, the boss and I had a mantra that we wanted to see a hundred potential deals before we acted. In was a mindset to always be prepared to do nothing or defer on a decision if it was not clearly better than what we were currently doing. While I always wondered if any of those opportunities were #4 above, I think we generally avoided making any big strategic mistakes.

In hockey, many of the poor decisions relate to contracts awarded and trades. Pat’s post was in part a look at what the Oilers would have looked like if they had simply kept the players they had. If they had done nothing but re-sign the players the Oilers had seven years ago, they would have Stoll, Greene, Hejda, Gilbert, Cogliano, Brodziak, and so on.

The Oilers would not have Hordichuk, Eager, Brown, Sutton, Khabibulin and other guys who are not very good at hockey. The overall quality of the club would be greater had Tambo failed to act in certain circumstances. Fistric. That new guy from Florida. The list is really quite embarrassing.

During yesterday’s press conference, Kevin Lowe was quite proud at the fact the Oilers have added Hall, Eberle, RNH, Yakupov, Dubnyk, Paajarvi and Justin Shultz. He seemed fairly oblivious to the other side of the equation, the side where Oilers’ management has destroyed significant value through many of the moves they made.

The Oilers have even started making mistakes with their young talent. Yes, they have Eberle, but they have him at too high a cost that will cause difficult decisions down the road. Why would anyone sign a player under contract for another year to a big money, long-term deal right before a lockout that would likely fundamentally change the economics of the game? Six Stanley Cup rings cannot tell you how to manage your cap space I guess…

MacT mentioned yesterday how he was an impatient man of action. Fortunately, he made those remarks in the context of the lack of quality hockey players in the bottom six. I hope his impatience is just bluster as patience is often vital to making good decisions.

Assuming MacT correctly diagnoses the issues with the Oilers, the face punchers will be gone and replaced with reasonably priced bottom six players with an ability to play. Most importantly, the elite defenseman void will be filled via trade or free agency. That move will be the one that will make or break the Oilers attempt at relevance.

As interested as I am in those moves that MacT makes to create value for the club, I am equally interested in those moves he makes that destroy value. To the extent smart Oilers fans cannot find bad moves to blog about, that will strongly suggest to me that the team is on the right track.

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The Conversion of Baseball from Religion to Science

For the first 100 years or so of baseball’s history, there was a near widely held belief in the keys to winning baseball games.  On the defensive side, it was the starting pitcher who was central to team success; he was credited with the win or loss.  Over time, the starting pitcher increasingly turned the game over to the bullpen and the last pitcher in the game on the winning team was credited with saving the game for his starter.   As starters began exiting games even earlier, a stat was created to credit other relievers with holds.   Pitching was 90% of defense as the old axiom held. 

Over on the offensive side of the equation, the key to victory was scoring runs.  Stats kept track of who scored the run and who batted in the runner.  Common wisdom was that the critical element to the scoring of the run was the action that immediately preceded the run, which was usually a hit which enabled a runner or runners to cross home plate.  The home run was king to the run scoring action as hitter drove himself in.  It didn’t hurt that chicks dug the long ball.  Continue reading

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Restoring Meaning to MLB Regular Season and World Series

The past sixteen seasons of Major League Baseball were a farce.  The Yankees victories in 1996 and 2000 should not have happened.  The Red Sox should not have ended their 86 year drought in 2004.  The Marlins should never have played for a World Series title, let alone win two titles.

Forty-four percent of the World Series participants since 1995 should never have been there.   Fifty percent of the World Series Champions did not belong in the postseason.  If baseball had never changed to three divisions and a wild card in 1995, baseball history as we now know it would read much differently. Continue reading

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A bad time to be a goaltender; a great time to be a GM

There is a change in thinking sweeping through the National Hockey League these days.  The Stanley Cup can be won despite a team’s goaltending.  Chicago and Philadelphia both competed for the Cup last season with afterthoughts between the pipes in Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton.  The Washington Capitals had the best regular season record with a couple of sacks of grain in goal.  Two years ago, the Detroit Red Wings won with the nominally paid Chris Osgood. 

In today’s NHL, managing the salary cap is critical and at the heart of the issue is how to build allocate dollars.  For every $6-7 million forward, defenseman or goalie, there has to be 2 or 3 plugs (slightly better than AHL level players) making around $1 million per season.  If a 20 man roster has three highly paid stars, the roster likely also has 5-7 players of mediocre talent to round out the roster.   

Old school thinking had GMs allocating big money on their goalie plus 2-3 other players.  Using the Calgary Flames as an example, Iginla, Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester take up $19.5 million of the $59.4 million cap.  There are six players on the roster with a cap hit ranging from $0.5 million to $1.3 million.  Other teams in this mold include the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.  

Teams have realized they can reduce the number of plugs on their team if their goaltending costs are kept nominal.  The Washington Capitals allocate a combined $27.5 million of their cap to three forwards and one defenseman, yet only have six players (excluding goalies) with the lower range cap hit.  They can double up the Flames star horsepower because both their goalies have a cap hit under $1.0 million this season. Continue reading

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NHL: The Power Play is the Thing

I am chugging along on a lengthy piece on one possible approach to building a NHL team.  To help organize my thoughts, I am putting forward the idea that inspired the work: the most important thing a team can do to win more hockey games is create power play opportunities*.  It therefore follows that staying out of the penalty box is the second most important thing a hockey team can do.  Perhaps drawing penalties is 1a and avoiding penalties is 1b.  Both are critically important.  1b is easy to control than 1a.

* I am not, repeat not suggesting the creation of a team of Darcy Tuckers who flop and dive all over the ice.  I am talking about legitimately drawing penalties through aggressive play.

For today, I will stay away from most of the elements I am trying to fit into the longer piece.  I will just stick to quantifying the value of getting the opponent into the penalty box while staying out as much as possible.    Suffice to say, there are a bunch of ingredients that go into a winning strategy and those ingredients are found in the types of players that a team covets. 

Essentially, a team should play offensive hockey in a way that creates opportunities for the other team to take a penalty.  I am talking about aggressive plays towards the net, stretching the defense, and working hard in front of the net.   We can all think of plays where the defense has little option but to haul a player down.  I would bet that there are certain areas of the ice where the majority of penalties occur; spend more time there and odds are your team will draw more penalties.

The defensive strategy is essentially the opposite of what I just described above.  The key is to keep play to the outside as much as possible and have a goalie with superb rebound control.  Minimize scoring chances and you minimize penalty taking opportunities.   Also key is avoiding mental mistakes such as too many men on the ice penalties. 

That is enough strategy for now.  I want to discuss the following chart: Continue reading

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Picking Sides: Part II

In part I, I threw out some ideas about why fans support the teams they do. Perhaps you were born in a city with a team, or perhaps your father pushed a team onto you. Maybe you might have picked a favourite team when you were young and that was that. It seems like this last reason best describes my relationship with my favourite teams.

Time to relax, lie back on the doctor’s chair and delve back into my fanatical history with sports… Continue reading

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Picking Sides: Why am I stuck cheering for the Buffalo Bills?

Every NFL season I find myself wondering why I continue to go through the pain of cheering for the Buffalo Bills. There are plenty of good, exciting teams out there who would be a lot more fun to support. Arizona Cardinals? They throw it up and down the field. Pittsburgh Steelers? A nice rich history of winning combined with great fans. Baltimore Ravens? How can you not love their defense? Minnesota Vikings? They’ve got some former Pac-man on their team now.

The same question is true for hockey. I pull hard for the Oilers and I also have an affinity for the Toronto Maple Leafs. What is up with that? Why can’t I get on board cheering for Pittsburgh or Washington?  Both teams are exciting with Malkin and Ovechkin.

And then I look at baseball and basketball. Why don’t I have a team that I am truly passionate about? And why can’t I find a soccer team to call my own? As hard as I try and as much as I enjoy the sport, I tend to have a few players I like but no team.

Finally I look to the individual sports of tennis and golf. What’s up with Boris Becker and Greg Norman being my all time favourites.  Heck, I’d even stand lookout for Becker should he ever need to use the washroom again and not want to be disturbed. Continue reading

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