Comparables: Sam Gagner

Jonathan Willis
May 20 2010 10:33AM

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

With all of the young prospects coming up the system and the first overall pick for this summer’s draft in the bag, it’s easy to forget about the importance of the Oilers’ best young forward currently playing with the NHL team, Sam Gagner.

Part of that is the apparent lack of development; Gagner has yet to match his scoring totals as a rookie, although his overall game has improved by leaps and bounds. That lack of offensive development has some wondering what kind of player Gagner projects as. We’ve seen different names tossed out there; Jim Matheson suggest Stephen Weiss while Lowetide generally prefers Vincent Damphousse as a benchmark.

Gagner’s track record is far better than Weiss’s was at the same age, so I suspect that Matheson’s comparable is underselling things, but I think the Damphousse comparison is realistic. Still, I also think we need more players to compare

One of the difficulties of comparing players across different years is that league scoring hasn’t been consistent; in 1981-82 NHL teams scored four goals per game on average, while immediately prior to the lockout they were just a hair over two and a half.

To make comparisons a little fairer, I went back to the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and looked at all the forwards who a) were 6’1” or shorter b) played in the NHL in their first year of eligibility and c) didn’t have a truckload of penalty minutes. I then took those players and adjusted their offence to reflect an NHL season in which teams averaged three goals per game, and projected that offence over an82-game schedule. I did the same with Gagner, and ended up with a list of five players who had comparable scoring over their first three NHL seasons:

 

Player Year One Year Two Year Three
Sam Gagner 15-40-55 18-28-46 19-33-52
Jim Fox 16-22-38 24-30-54 23-33-56
Bobby Carpenter 25-27-52 25-29-54 22-31-53
Vincent Damphousse 18-21-39 11-32-43 21-35-56
Pat Falloon 22-28-50 23-23-46 20-28-48
Tim Connolly 16-22-38 11-34-45 11-40-51

Carpenter, Connolly and Fox all have roughly comparable birthdays to Gagner. Damphousse is seven months older over the seasons in question, while Pat Falloon’s birthday makes him almost a full year older than Gagner.

Jim Fox was a tremendously talented player who managed to survive 1980’s hockey despite standing only 5’8” tall. He spent just over eight seasons with the Kings, scoring just under a point per game in each of them, before injury ended his career. He missed the entire 1988-89 season recovering from a knee injury suffered during the stretch drive the year before; he attempted to make a comeback the following year but only played 11 games before being forced to retire.

Bobby Carpenter was the first high school hockey player to jump directly into the NHL. He had a strong start to his career and in his fourth season scored 53 goals and 95 points. Unfortunately, it was a one-off; his scoring returned to its previous levels and more or less stayed there for the majority of his career. After Carpenter turned 30 he became more of a defensive specialist, but in the end he managed to play 1178 games at the NHL level, recording 728 points.

Vincent Damphousse was the sixth overall selection in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, and after three seasons of decent results in Toronto he broke out in his fourth year, scoring 33 goals and recording 93 points for the Maple Leafs. He would either near or surpass the point-per-game mark every season for the next eight years and ended his NHL career with 1205 points in 1378 games.

Pat Falloon had some up and down seasons after a promising start to his NHL career. He struggled during his fourth season, rebounded the following year with a new team, struggled some more and was dealt again, struggled some more and then got signed by Edmonton; he was okay for the Oilers before getting shipped off to Pittsburgh, and he eventually found himself playing in Switzerland.

Tim Connolly has had an occasionally brilliant career that has been plagued by injuries; when healthy he’s an excellent offensive player and when healthy has been a number one centre since the NHL lockout. Unfortunately, he’s not healthy all that often.

It’s a fairly nice group to be compared to, especially since Falloon’s a full year older and I’m probably stretching to include him in the group anyway. Connolly and Fox both would have had significantly better careers if they were healthy, Damphousse was a very good player for quite a long time, and Bobby Carpenter had a long and relatively successful NHL career.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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.
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#1 Harlie - Team Centipede
May 20 2010, 10:37AM
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haha FAT BALLOON!

seriously though....Jimmy Fox is a good comp

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#2 The Towel Boy
May 20 2010, 10:43AM
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I remember as a young lad I traded away a Mark Recchi rookie card and a Niklas Lidstrom rookie card plus 10 bucks to get a Pat Falloon card. I was sooooo sure that was my ticket to easy street.

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#3 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 10:45AM
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Gagner's game reminds me alot of Mark Savard. I could see Gagner putting up 90% of Savards #'s through his prime 6-7 years

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#4 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 10:47AM
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Also, with all the hype over current (and soon to be)Oilers prospects, I'd still say Odds are Gagner will be the teams 2nd best player in 5 years.

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#5 Poo Czar
May 20 2010, 11:02AM
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Y'know, for all the doom and gloom surrounding this franchise, the fact that a kid this good and this young can be this overlooked is actually a pretty good sign.

Oh, and Willis - I think you owe Papa Lowetide a beer for this article title alone. (Yes, I get that it's an homage)

hehe, Fat Balloon...

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#6 John K
May 20 2010, 11:07AM
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Since the article is taking on a slightly more statistical bend, it would be nice to see the results normalized by player ice time, QoC, and team scoring. Obviously some of that information won't be available but I wonder if taking those other things into account would hurt or hamper Gagner's case.

Nonetheless it looks like Vinny D is a good comparable. Lets hope for the equivalent of his 93 point season for Gagner next year.

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#7 Senator Theo
May 20 2010, 11:08AM
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@The Towel Boy

How much would that 10-spot be worth in todays' dollars?

Watching Sam play this year helped me get through some terrible games. I really like Sam Gagner.

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#8 Tha Legion
May 20 2010, 11:16AM
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Senator Theo wrote:

How much would that 10-spot be worth in todays' dollars?

Watching Sam play this year helped me get through some terrible games. I really like Sam Gagner.

Well put, I tend to forget about him because I focus myself in Prospects and whatnot.

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#10 The Towel Boy
May 20 2010, 11:35AM
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Senator Theo wrote:

How much would that 10-spot be worth in todays' dollars?

Watching Sam play this year helped me get through some terrible games. I really like Sam Gagner.

At least $13.73. Stings even more now.

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#11 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
May 20 2010, 11:35AM
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I like the Marc Savard comparison for Gagner.....if 4 or 5 teams give up on you and someone else is willing to give you a shot then you he must be doing something right. This has to be a big year coming up for Gagner, i still hope he can have some success here in Edmonton.

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#12 Scott in Grande Prairie
May 20 2010, 11:46AM
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Sure hope you're right about the Damphousse comparison with Gagner. Vinny was a helluva player for a long time in the league. Bit of a streaky scorer, but a heady player. Remember when he scored four goals in the 1991 (or 92?) all-star game? That was considered a big deal back then because All-star games were still relatively low-scoring affairs and, at the point, only Nos. 99 and 66 had scored four goals in a game.

Anyway, I'm thinking Gagner is more like a Jim Fox than a Vinny Damphousse and I'd be OK with that, too.

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#13 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 11:52AM
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Another guy Gagner kind of reminds me of is a more competitive Alex Tanguay.

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#14 Archaeologuy
May 20 2010, 12:14PM
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He's getting stronger and more defensively responsible. This year he started on the 4th line and worked his way to the top. I fully expect that with a better supporting cast and a top 6 spot all year, Gagner will surpass his career highs next year.

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#15 Rusty Duggan Team Fence
May 20 2010, 12:19PM
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Maybe Gagner will be a first line center by the time Seguin will be. I wonder what the Oilers are projecting.

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#16 GSC
May 20 2010, 12:24PM
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So, now we're altering stats in order to make Gagner look comparable to Damphousse...

When is this nonsense going to end?

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#17 HFPM
May 20 2010, 12:38PM
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2007-08 Edmonton Oilers NHL 79 13 36 49 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers NHL 76 16 25 41 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 68 15 26 41

40 points is 40 points is 40 points.

This is a classic case of creating hokey stats to boost a struggling player.

It's getting pretty pathetic.

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#18 Oil_Loc8or
May 20 2010, 12:39PM
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Vinny Damphousse wow I hope so but really 90+ points. Who was the last Oiler to do that ( Doug Weight ) ? Is Gagner comparable to Weight ? I think Daymond Langkow would a more comparable name. 65-70 point if he does increase his numbers which has yet to be proven. 90 points is a huge stretch HUGE

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#19 SirFozz
May 20 2010, 12:39PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

I remember as a young lad I traded away a Mark Recchi rookie card and a Niklas Lidstrom rookie card plus 10 bucks to get a Pat Falloon card. I was sooooo sure that was my ticket to easy street.

Bahahahahaha... how'd that turn out for you?

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#21 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 12:51PM
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GSC wrote:

So, now we're altering stats in order to make Gagner look comparable to Damphousse...

When is this nonsense going to end?

The exit is on the top right corner.

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#22 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 12:54PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ GSC:

Defend your position.

All I did was take the scoring over the entire league by year, adjusted it down to 3.00 goals per game per team, and used the ratio to adjust the player's individual statistics.

I don't think anything is wrong with that, and you've given me no indication of what you think is wrong with that. Surely you don't think playing in ther mid-1980's is the same as now, and surely you realize that goaltending and team defence have improved by leaps and bounds over your time period.

So if you have a problem with the article, please stop generic pissing and moaning and give me a concrete reason for why the premise is flawed. If you can't do that, feel free to keep your completely unsupported comments to yourself.

Edit to add: I don't have a problem with criticism, but you haven't supported your statement at all. I know I'm not perfect, and I'm open to logical rebuttal. But moaning about math simply doesn't cut it.

It's the same old song and dance with that guy, he's got an ax to grind with number guys.

Maybe he failed calculus.

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#24 GSC
May 20 2010, 12:59PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ GSC:

Defend your position.

All I did was take the scoring over the entire league by year, adjusted it down to 3.00 goals per game per team, and used the ratio to adjust the player's individual statistics.

I don't think anything is wrong with that, and you've given me no indication of what you think is wrong with that. Surely you don't think playing in ther mid-1980's is the same as now, and surely you realize that goaltending and team defence have improved by leaps and bounds over your time period.

So if you have a problem with the article, please stop generic pissing and moaning and give me a concrete reason for why the premise is flawed. If you can't do that, feel free to keep your completely unsupported comments to yourself.

Edit to add: I don't have a problem with criticism, but you haven't supported your statement at all. I know I'm not perfect, and I'm open to logical rebuttal. But moaning about math simply doesn't cut it.

Because you've manipulated the actual stats in order to "prove" your point. It doesn't prove anything, just that you know how to work with numbers. My comments are unsupported? I called them for exactly what they are, altering numbers to paint a flattering picture of Gagner as if he played in a different era (which he doesn't).

Sure, the game was more offensive in the mid-80's, no one is disputing that. But changing the actual stats to reflect how Sam might have fared in a different era doesn't say anything. It suggests that he could've scored more in the 80's. Well duh, players like Rob Brown scored in triple digits at that time. Stats were inflated back then, we get it. And to venture off point for a second: what's to say Gagner would be any better during that era? Would he not be on the same level as those around him? What would make him so special?

But comparing Gagner to a player like Damphousse, who managed to maintain a high level of offensive output throughout his career (0.87 points per game) is more than reaching. You mean to tell me that Sam might well be on his way to scoring at that rate (roughly 71 points per year)? I'm not buying it.

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#25 GSC
May 20 2010, 01:01PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

The exit is on the top right corner.

Because I don't buy into the math/stats arguments, that makes me somehow less informed and less educated (the "failed calculus" comment was so damned smart on your part)?

You're brilliant!

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#26 MrCondor
May 20 2010, 01:06PM
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For us younger fans, are there any comparables to people that were drafted post '95?

I see Zetterberg posted around 40 points his first 2 seasons in the NHL. I hope that turns out to be a relevent comparison.

Jason: Where do you go for your stats? Or is it a trade secret?

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#27 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 01:06PM
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HFPM wrote:

2007-08 Edmonton Oilers NHL 79 13 36 49 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers NHL 76 16 25 41 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 68 15 26 41

40 points is 40 points is 40 points.

This is a classic case of creating hokey stats to boost a struggling player.

It's getting pretty pathetic.

Not really sure how a comparison that comes up with Pat Fallon as a comparable can be classified as "Boosting a struggling player".

The point is to show what guys that had similar circumstances as Gagner for his first three year (adjusted for league wide scoring trends)have gone on to do.... ie maybe give us a range of possibilities for what we can look for from Gagner over the next 15 years.

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#29 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
May 20 2010, 01:07PM
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GSC wrote:

Because you've manipulated the actual stats in order to "prove" your point. It doesn't prove anything, just that you know how to work with numbers. My comments are unsupported? I called them for exactly what they are, altering numbers to paint a flattering picture of Gagner as if he played in a different era (which he doesn't).

Sure, the game was more offensive in the mid-80's, no one is disputing that. But changing the actual stats to reflect how Sam might have fared in a different era doesn't say anything. It suggests that he could've scored more in the 80's. Well duh, players like Rob Brown scored in triple digits at that time. Stats were inflated back then, we get it. And to venture off point for a second: what's to say Gagner would be any better during that era? Would he not be on the same level as those around him? What would make him so special?

But comparing Gagner to a player like Damphousse, who managed to maintain a high level of offensive output throughout his career (0.87 points per game) is more than reaching. You mean to tell me that Sam might well be on his way to scoring at that rate (roughly 71 points per year)? I'm not buying it.

The stats (when you adjust for scoring discrepancies) give you an idea of where Sam Gagner sits relative to the other players in the league. It doesn't say that Gagner is going to follow Damphousse point-for-point in production. It says that .87 points per game in Damphousse's first 3 years in the NHL put him in Xth place when ranked by point production. The person in today's NHL who is roughly in that same Xth spot is Sam Gagner.

Gagner's point production is lower, and that stands to reason because point production in general is lower, but relative to the other players in the league they're ranked fairly close.

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#30 GSC
May 20 2010, 01:10PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The stats (when you adjust for scoring discrepancies) give you an idea of where Sam Gagner sits relative to the other players in the league. It doesn't say that Gagner is going to follow Damphousse point-for-point in production. It says that .87 points per game in Damphousse's first 3 years in the NHL put him in Xth place when ranked by point production. The person in today's NHL who is roughly in that same Xth spot is Sam Gagner.

Gagner's point production is lower, and that stands to reason because point production in general is lower, but relative to the other players in the league they're ranked fairly close.

Damphousse didn't score .87 points per game in his first three seasons, he did that throughout his career.

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#32 Oil_Loc8or
May 20 2010, 01:12PM
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Stats are manipulative. When player (B) wears a red hat on the Sunday before the game he has scored X points lol. Come on

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#35 HFPM
May 20 2010, 01:13PM
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I have a season I'd like you to "bolster". Marc Savard on the 2000-2001 Flames.

65 points on a team that scored 197 goals.

I did it for you. 81 points.

For posterity, here's some similar players in their 3rd seasons too.

Doug Weight: 74 points // 261 goal team Tomas Plekanec 69 points // 257 goal team

Moving up an inch in the height category, here's Paul Stastny

79 points // 237 goal team

Are we seeing how silly this is yet?

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#38 Oil_Loc8or
May 20 2010, 01:20PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Oil_Loc8or:

Stats are impartial.

Sorry they are impartial but can be adjusted to make any point more convincing, is that fair ?

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#39 GSC
May 20 2010, 01:20PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

GSC wrote:

Because you've manipulated the actual stats in order to "prove" your point. It doesn't prove anything, just that you know how to work with numbers. My comments are unsupported? I called them for exactly what they are, altering numbers to paint a flattering picture of Gagner as if he played in a different era (which he doesn't).

You've got no clue about me, so stop pretending that you do. You suggest I went out and said, 'hey, I need to paint as flattering a portrait of Gagner as possible, here's a way to do it" but you aren't even close.

I looked at 20 $%^# years of top-10 players, and I thought to myself 'these guys wouldn't put up the points they did in the mid-1980's if they were drafted today - how do I make a fair comparison? This is what I came up with.

You suggest an agenda. There was none.

You suggest I had a chosen conclusion ahead of time and fudged the numbers to make it. That's a serious, completely unsupported, and completely untrue charge. I resent it, and I have no interest in debating with someone who has already decided ahead of time that I'm dishonest and manipulative.

Feel free not to read my articles any more.

A serious charge? Are you doing a dissertation on this information or something? You're blogging on the internet, you're not a journalist, and you're using a method of analysis that raises questions.

In your mind, this is how you make a "fair comparison." In my mind, this is how you alter actual statistics to frame your argument. You even said it yourself that "I think the Damphousse comparison is realistic" before you even got into the comparisons. What do you think that suggests?

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#40 GSC
May 20 2010, 01:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Speaking of which, for everyone who is assuming my agenda here, tell me again why I included Pat Falloon on this list?

Anybody?

Because had I left him off the list, what are the odds that any of you - especially you non-math types - would have called me on it? Somewhere between slim and none?

And if you can't answer that question, but want to continue to assume my agenda, what does that say about you?

You made the comment that you think Gagner is comparable to Damphousse, so that's what I centered on.

Who knows why you included Falloon, that's not what I'm concerned with here.

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#41 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
May 20 2010, 01:24PM
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GSC wrote:

Damphousse didn't score .87 points per game in his first three seasons, he did that throughout his career.

Let me approach this a different way:

When you are comparing players now to players then, do you compare the stats straight-up?

Pick a player from this year, and slot him into the 1991 league roster, ranked by point production. Do you think that creates an accurate comparison?

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#42 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 01:25PM
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GSC wrote:

Because I don't buy into the math/stats arguments, that makes me somehow less informed and less educated (the "failed calculus" comment was so damned smart on your part)?

You're brilliant!

You outlash like a child that can't understand the concepts.

If that's not the issue, I'd love to hear it.

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#43 GSC
May 20 2010, 01:29PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

You outlash like a child that can't understand the concepts.

If that's not the issue, I'd love to hear it.

I don't agree with his method of analysis. It's that simple.

That's is the issue and has always been the issue.

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#44 Oil_Loc8or
May 20 2010, 01:30PM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

This is outlashing like a child wrote by GSC"So, now we're altering stats in order to make Gagner look comparable to Damphousse...

When is this nonsense going to end?"

Great job trying to get browny points, do we get browny points now ?

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#45 Maggie the Monkey
May 20 2010, 01:31PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Oil_Loc8or:

Stats are impartial.

For the most part I'm on your side with this argument, JW, yet this statement is a bit loaded.

While raw statistics are impartial, the use of stats aren't. It's the analysis of stats that make them relevant and frame their use, as any good politician could tell you (if there's such a thing).

For the record, I think that your manipulation of points to reflect different eras in hockey is entirely appropriate and one of several good ways to compare players.

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#47 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 01:32PM
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GSC wrote:

I don't agree with his method of analysis. It's that simple.

That's is the issue and has always been the issue.

So using players of roughly the same size that came into the league at roughly the same age and put up roughly the same production in their first three years, and then looking at what those players did the rest of their career to see what type of production someone else that has so far followed that trend my have for the rest of their career, is incorrect?

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#48 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 20 2010, 01:34PM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

This is outlashing like a child wrote by GSC"So, now we're altering stats in order to make Gagner look comparable to Damphousse...

When is this nonsense going to end?"

Great job trying to get browny points, do we get browny points now ?

Yes it is, however if that was the first time it would probably be ignored. However it isn't.

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#50 Souby
May 20 2010, 01:37PM
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Hey JW. I think the article was a great read and an interesting comparison of how Gagner looks compared to players with similar stats. I am no math whiz and calculus is something best left in my distant past, but I feel that given what you had to work with, you did a good job here.

Personally, I would like to see comparisons of other young Oilers using the same method. Maybe Cogliano, Gilbert etc...

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