Upon further review: Huggy and JDD

Hands up everybody who didn’t make fun of or dismiss Zack Stortini at some point during his first three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers as he grabbed hold of the 23rd roster spot on the team with those scabbed up-meat hooks of his and hung on for dear life.

That’s a rhetorical question because, let’s face it, everybody did — I could dig up 10 screens of comments here to prove it, but won’t — including me, even though I should have known better.

After his first 29 NHL games in 2006-07, I had Stortini pegged as a willing but overmatched palooka who’d never be more than a marginal fourth-liner on a team with no depth at forward.

Egged on by Bob Stauffer before he took Daryl Katz’s hush money, I fell into the misguided mob of Huggy Bear critics. I laughed out loud at what a no-skill meathead and waste of roster space Stortini was.

I remember Sponge Bob and I carving Stortini a new one for half-an-hour straight during one segment of Stauffer’s Total Sports show, one that was broadcast from just outside the Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place. I also recall doing several shoulder checks, wondering if listeners would be treated to the sounds of Zack beating the shit out of Stauffer and I on live radio.

Stortini let it slide.

He’s a player

Even though Stortini proved us wrong long ago, I’ve got to admit I never saw the kind of game he played in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Tampa Bay coming.

He scored the winning goal in the second period, added an assist and traded punches with bloody knuckles soul-mate Zenon Konopka twice. It was his best game as an Oiler, and that’s saying something with how well he’s played the majority of this season, especially during this unlikely four-game winning streak.

For my money, Stortini, who just turned 24 in September, does more with less ice time than anybody on the Oilers roster. He seldom plays more than 10 minutes a night. He played just 6:22 Wednesday.

He fights. He checks. He does the dirty work. He even takes face-offs. Most of all, as those of us eating crow have come to know, Stortini competes every night. He does what he’s told. He’s a team-first player.

Given all the discussion about the DFF around here in recent weeks, and the counter-argument that at least some degree of patience is a virtue, Stortini is looking like Exhibit A when it comes to sober second thought and resisting a rush to judgment.

Stop right there

I don’t know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he’s played since Nik Khabibulin’s back gave out because of wallet strain.

Deslauriers, 25, has had games he’d rather forget during that stretch, notably a 7-3 loss to Vancouver, but the body of his work this season tells me a lot of people were wrong about him.

In 13 games this season, Deslauriers is 7-4-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average, a saves percentage of .917 and one shutout. In 23 career games, he’s 11-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .910.

I’m not saying JDD is the second-coming of Martin Brodeur or has even done enough, yet, to indicate he can be a top-tier NHL starter, but he’s damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as.

His saves percentage in games during this winning streak have been .941, .943, .943 and .964. During a stretch that was supposed to solidify the DFF, Deslauriers has been, for the most part, outstanding.

Hindsight being what it is, I’m guessing GM Steve Tambellini wouldn’t have handed Khabibulin his fat four-year retirement package had Deslauriers put together this kind of impressive streak last season. He didn’t of course, in large part because Craig MacTavish left him to rot behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Again, clarity often only comes with time.

Just asking…

— Robert Nilsson was a nice, albeit unlikely, fit with Ryan Stone and Stortini Wednesday, and has been very good overall since returning to the line-up. Is Bobby teasing us again or has he finally, finally, finally figured it out?

— Tom Gilbert has put the brakes on his struggles through the early part of the season since being paired with Sheldon Souray. With a few more weeks like that, and with Denis Grebeshkov close to returning, should Tambellini start making and taking calls on Gilbert? Or is Grebeshkov the guy to go?

— Given the way Stortini, Stone and J.F. Jacques are playing, they’d make a killer fourth line and would free up Nilsson for a spot higher in the pecking order. The question facing coach Pat Quinn down the road is: how in the world does he make room for Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • Paq Twinn

    @Willis

    I have made some fairly accurate predictions based on things I see as well. Unfortunatly I haven't made them online, so anything I say can not really be proven. But one example is during my local hockeypool draft, I predicted Crosby would compete for, if not win the Rocket Richard Trophy. I had based that prediction on what I seen during the playoffs last year. I could see his determination to score goals not just assist them. However like I said, I don't really have any proof I said this before today.

  • Jason Gregor

    """As far as I can tell all we are saying is that a typical hockey fan has a much better chance of predicting a players potential success with numbers than by only watching some games."""

    Really?? You can predict a players potential with numbers from junior or the AHL or other NHL players who are supposed comparibles?

    How does that allow you to predict it better. I could find just an even number of examples pro and con for that.

    If you honestly believe that, I'd love to see you predict at the start of next season how players will perform.

    Veterans like Souray, Moreau, Staios, Strudwick or guys on other teams who have played for many years and could give you a foundation, might allow you to be more accurate using stats, but at that point anyone who has watched them for seven or eight years would probably have just as good of feel for their potential.

    But with young players with limited experience, like Deslauriers, there are no numbers that can help you in making a more accurate prediction compared to someone who does it by watching.

    I'd be curious for you to show me which numbers you would use on Deslauriers that would allow you to be more accurate in prediciting his potential?

    • Let me respond with a question back to you.

      Are you seriously claiming that a guy who watches games has the same chance to predict a players likely potential than a guy who watches games AND analyzes the underlying statistics?

      This is my position, and it would seemingly be supported by Brownlee who supported the idea that the more information the better.

  • Jonathan, I like your work alot. And even though I don't jump into the conversations at Lowetide or MC79, I'm an avid reader.

    Just the same, its hard to get too excited about revelations that a team will tend to the mean over the long run. Really?

    From that perspective, a fan's observations that "the guys are playing over their heads" are no less valid.

    I dig stats oriented articles such as yours and Tyler's because they offer a fresh way of looking at things. But there are some fans out there who assume an application of rudimentary statistics brands them as intellectually superior. I mean, holy cow it got pretty high and mighty last week over at Lowetide when some of the the regular posters got downright incensed that their holy sanctum was being invaded by lowly nOoB bottom feeders.

    As I said earlier, no single group of fans has an edge over the others because they're all working from a very limited grasp of the real situation, unlike guys like Brownlee. Its just plain wrong to assume that just because you have a set of numbers to support your conclusion, that conclusion is valid. It more than likely isn't. Its just fan conjecture, just the same as some guy watching on his TV.

    Good fun for an internet comment forum, but let's not get carried away with ourselves huh?

  • Victoria

    Hey, I still make fun of Stortini… just now it's in a fond sort of way as opposed to seething anger.

    And GO JDD!!

    Hah, the only thing that made me happy about us signing Khabi was that I knew we'd get to see lots of Deslauriers, what with all the injuries.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    The problem with these "I watch the game" arguments is that anyone can come in with any opinion (with no support) and use all the same rational to defend that opinion that was used here.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        The other problem is people assuming that guys with the capability to crunch and understand the numbers aren't watching the games.

        What on earth would make people feel the number crunchers arn't watching the games?

        Willis SV% example was probably the clearest you could find on seperating what your "eye" can see vs what the stat sheet shows. One goal out of a hundred seprates elite from average, can your eye spot that?

        Another good one I've found is Moreau's offensive ability. I've seen lots of "I watch the games" guys moan and groan about Moreau's lack off offense, when in reality he's consistantly amoungs the teams leading 5 on 5 goal scores, adjusting for ice time excentuates.

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          Willis himself stated he never watched lots of games last year.

          As for Moreau he could be a 20 goal scorer and people would rag on him. For that stat what's the big deal? It's only one offensive stat out of how many? I agree that given the time he plays Moreau is actually doing not bad, but his offensive production isn't the problem I had/have with him.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            No but it's the problem lots of people have with him (at least one of them). I've argued with lots of guys complaining that he has no offensive talent. Which is obviously not the case.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            LOL. Honestly Gregor should have you doing weekly irritants on Wednesdays. I've seen some of the arguements you have had and I shake my head that some of those guys try bring stats in and yet they back up your arguement more then theirs.

          • Your correct. Moreau has this problem of taking Bad Timing Penalties. He's had 5 already this year. No one really bitches about his offensive output. *Well, other than him missing empty nets.* Moreau has been bad in every category this year. Mind you he did play well for 5 games or so. How did we start talking about my goat again? I hate that guy!!!

    • BarryS

      The other problem is you only, or mostly watch, on TV you only get to watch the puck and those with it.

      Most of the other teams than the home team or the makebeliefs are only seen as highlights and even more skewed.

      Since most of a players true value comes from what he does without the puck, your perceptions are thus skewed by directed view.

      An stat I'd like to see, and impossible to get in my opinion, would be a stat on important plays per game, plays that caused or prevented a goal, a hit which changed the game, a fight which changed the game, an important goal which changed the game, a penalty kill or short handed goal which turned a game, etc., and on the ice and involved in them as the negative to those positives.

      Then you could judge the true worth of a player.

  • @ David S:

    Regression to the mean is a surprisingly big deal, actually. Had Doug MacLean, to use the most obvious example, understood it he might still have an NHL job.

    Instead he signed free agents and traded for players with pretty percentages and lousy shot data, and helped systematically destroy the Columbus franchise.

    Hell, if the Montreal press understood it, we wouldn't have seen the decline and fall of Alex Kovalev that we did; we'd have seen "he's a good player on a hot streak, ok, check that, now he's a good player on a cold streak".

    It's not something most hockey people seem to understand.

    • I find this statement stunning.

      Jon, you must stop wasting your time fiddling around with small potatoes like blogging. Get out there and start banging on the doors of all 30 NHL teams. Write them. Fax them. Phone them. Better still, gather up your data and get out there in person.

      Do whatever it takes to convince Ken Holland and Darryl Sutter and Steve Tambellini you have ways of evaluating and assessing players and projecting what they might do better than what they or their scouting staffs do.

      Make them understand advanced stats and applications of them like regression to the mean provide insights people who've spent their entire lives playing the game, managing the game, coaching the game and covering the game don't possess. Stop wasting time debating the value of what you know with dullards like reporters and fans. Take Holland and the rest of these hockey people out of the dark and into the light. That's where the real money is.

      Nickels and dimes for blogging when, at the very least, you could be bolstering the hockey ops departments of the NHL as a consultant and, in time, revolutionizing the business of player assessment? It won't be easy because they might not be smart enough or perceptive enough to see the value in it at first, but hammer away until they get it. You'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams.

    • You may be right.

      Myself, I tend to stay away from being too critical of people outside my field of expertise because I have to believe there's alot more that goes on than meets the eye. It strikes me as odd that seemingly bright people who made a career in pro sports at the high management levels miss what casual fans find so obvious.

      Or they could indeed be idiots. Hey. What do I know.

      I would say that (as someone who works with statistical data) what's most interesting is the anomalies rather than the norms. Trying to figure out why something went outside of the model is often where the insights lie.

  • Paq Twinn

    @Original Ogden Brother

    In my opinion, opinions don't really need support, for all they are is opinions. Its when you state facts that you need support to back them.

    I may have phrased it wrong before, but all I meant was I think JDD will be a good goalie in this league. If I hadn't said "I think" then absolutely I would have to support it with some #'s or something.

    Maybe I'm wrong here but I don't see any justification for the GDB predictions, there are no #'s supporting any of those. I don't really see how my prediction about JDD is any different then that.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Well you challanged another guys supported opinion and used what amounted to non-sense to try and support your own.

      If you would have came out with "Hey I think JDD will be a starter in this league" I don't think anyone would have said much, but you came out swinging at someone elses methods of grading/projecting with zero back-up to your own opinion.

  • @ Paq Twinn:

    Yes, I'm smarter than Doug MacLean. Because Doug MacLean is an idiot.

    And as for "building" the Panthers, he didn't build them, he coached them. Bryan Murray built the Panthers. But I suppose the 30 seconds it would have taken you to find that via Wikipedia was too much of a time investment for you.

    And yeah, opinions need support if they're to be used in arguments. Otherwise, they're just things you think for no reason you can give; in other words, valueless.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Is MacLean an idiot or is he a smart guy with poor judgment and/or flawed philosophy when it comes to building hockey teams?

      How many current NHL GMs are you smarter than? Which ones?

  • @ Ogden Brother Jr.:

    The "watch the games" argument is a cop-out. I've been watching all the games this season and I've yet to see anything I've learned statistically refuted.

    The statistics need to match up with observation; if they don't there's either a problem with the stat or the observer.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    Cute.

    I shouldn't have said "most", I should have said "some".

    For instance, when Doug MacLean signed Anson Carter, Carter was coming off a career year in shooting percentage (22.6%). He'd averaged 14.4% the three seasons prior; in Columbus he managed 16.1% and was declared a failure.

    When Doug MacLean signed Todd Marchant, Marchant was coming off a career year in shooting percentage (13.7%). He'd averaged 8.5% over his seven previous seasons; MacLean signed him to a multiyear, big-money deal and he only managed 5.9% in Columbus.

    These were simple, simple decisions that any idiot could have looked at and said, "Doug, these guys aren't going to score the way you're signing them to."

    Alexei Kovalev, a career 12.1% shooter, hit 15.2% in his 35-goal year with Montreal. The next year, he dropped back to 12.4% and was labelled a bust.

    Now, feel free to tell me I'm wrong here, but doesn't it seem like a little teency bit of looking at the statistics might have been helpful to MacLean or the folks in Montreal?

    • BarryS

      I love the term career year, a term used both as a positive and a negative as it seems the favourite of those on the negative side.

      For the positives, DP is having a career year, means his best year so far, since he has not yet retired.

      For the negatives, Horcoff signed the big contract after a career year, meaning he will never have a better one in the future. Of course, only hind sight after he is retired can tell the truth of the statement but the term is used even while he is playing and might actually yet to have a career year.

    • Jason Gregor

      No one in Montreal called him a bust for his production, but rather his lazy-ass attitude. He'd had 37 and 44 goal seasons even before his 35 goal season. No one has to look at stats to figure out that Kovalev was always an enigma. He was consistently inconsistent.

      THe reason Montreal didn't re-sign him was his age and how much he wanted. Smart decision.

      How would have statistical analysis helped them considering he was in the last year of his contract last season.

      Mclean is like most GM's when they sign a free agent, they over pay and rarely does the player pan out. ANd yes the Marchant signing was horrendous, but every one in hockey said that at the time, and you didn't need to look at SH% to figure that out.

      Sure stats can help, but while you used Kovalev's average has your basis, it is clear by his numbers that he would fluctuate between two-four% every season. So the fact he went from 15% one year down to 12% isn't that big of surprise, since he'd went from 10% up to 14% one year and another year he went from 12% to 16%.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      So in other words their is a place in NHL head offices for advanced statistical annalysis.

      I don't think anyone is claming it is the be all, end all. But it should be clear that it has a place.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Back to Moreau and watching the game and looking at stats. The one issue I had with him was bad penalties.

    As we both know he kinda stopped taking stupid penalties and his 9th penalty of the year was bogus when that guy tripped and Moreau just happened to be there.

    But lately I have missed some games do due hunting and such. I just checked and he has 12 minor penalties which is tied for 29th in the league.

    So if I were to use stats I should assume that he is taking too many penalties, should I not? But because I missed some games or only watched parts I don't know if those were bad penalties or not, so I don't have an opinion on this issue other then that is a lot of minors to have.

  • Actualy, they could have just watched Anson Carter. He's always sucked. Anyones eyes could see that. Bill Guerin as he is today still can mop the floor with Carter. I'm sure MacLean was going on false hope when he did that deal. Didn't the Oilers do the same?

  • David S.:

    Honestly, in a lot of cases I don't think statistics can explain why someone goes outside of the norm; and everybody does at some point. Hot streaks, confidence, whatever. That's where eyeballing and knowledge of the player becomes vital.

    But I do think stats can show us where the poor bets are, and help us avoid them.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    I'll take a pass on that one, but I'll give you a different answer.

    I think you could do as good a job with an NHL team as Don Waddell has in Atlanta, and as Mike Milbury and Doug MacLean did before they were finally, mercifully, terminated. I'd also suggest that you could match Steve Tambellini's performance over his time with the Oilers.

    There's precedent too; Charles Wang snagged a backup goaltender with no experience as an executive and installed him in the top job, and he's done at least as well as Milbury did. John Davidson's last few years in St. Louis look better than the previous work done by Larry Pleau.

    It's really not about me; it's about rejecting the myth that NHL GM's are competent and qualified for their positions simply because they have their positions. Just because they have the job doesn't make them right, and I don't think it's heresy to suggest that some of the league's worst GM's couldn't be improved upon by someone with knowledge of the team and a solid plan.

    I wouldn't hire me to be a G.M. But if I were an owner I'd take a quick glance at career shooting percentage before shelling out millions for Todd Marchant.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Nice sidestep.
      Deft, putting me in there. If I could do it, you could, too, right? You are smarter than I am, no? So name them. What NHL teams could be better with you in the chair?

      I've never accepted that simply getting a job as an NHL GM — coach or scout, for that matter — makes a person qualified. I've seen and talked to enough of them over 25 years to know there are some dolts calling the shots.

      As for Marchant, I laughed out loud when MacLean got suckered on that contract because I didn't see T-Bone replicating his 20-goal season. I can honestly say, though, I came to that conclusion without knowing what his shooting percentage was.

  • And actually, that's why I made a point of mentioning that I'd trade Brule in my plan as Oilers' GM, though I knew it wouldn't be popular.

    Brule's SH%, CBJ: 146GP, 6.6%
    Brule's SH%, EDM: 39GP, 14.5%

    We don't know where the mean actually is. I'd suggest it's somewhere in the middle, which would make him (roughly) a 15-goal scorer. I wouldn't bet more money on him than that, even if he manages 25 this year.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I have a few comments/questions.

      First off what were your expectations of Brule coming into the year. Have they changed?

      Second what does Brule actually get us via a trade?

      Personally I was hoping he could crack the lineup and be a 4th line center that would be able to go up to the 3rd line at times. Now he shows some glimpses of being a capbale 2nd liner, but as long as we don't sign him to a big deal it wouldn't matter if he faulters and goes back to a 3rd/4th liner.

      I also don't see us getting much via trade, so not sure it's worth dealing him unless it's a part of a bigger deal.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I see Krajieck is on waivers, I really thought he would've became something. Although he is still 25 or so and TB needed to get rid of a d-man.

  • @ Ogden Brother Jr.:

    If Brule can be signed to a reasonable deal he'd be worth keeping.

    As for what I thought of him, Wanye and I actually did a four-part post here that I can't seem to find. Here's what I said about the trade that brought him here on Copper & Blue:

    Update II (Fun Comparisons): In 2002-03, at age 21, Raffi Torres had zero goals and five points in seventeen NHL games, to go along with 40 points in 50 games at the AHL level. He was a 6th overall pick who had yet to show his offensive touch, and the Oilers dumped salary in Janne Niinimaa to acquire him and project forward Brad Isbister. The next season, Torres scored 20 goals. And no, I am not saying that will happen with Brule, but I am saying it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Brule bounces back.

    Desjardin's league equivalency (using his AHL numbers from last year) had him in the 10-15 goal, 20-25 point range, and my guess was that he'd manage that in a fourth line role. So he's exceeded (by a fair bit) my pre-season expectations.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    This may surprise you, but I don't actually have a list of people who I figure I'm smarter than.

    And if I did, you wouldn't be on it.

    Don't get me wrong; I've got a healthy ego and I think I'm a pretty bright guy, but I'm also not yet 25 and based on the number of things I've picked up over the last year – from various places – I've got plenty of learning left to do.

    Not only that, but you've called me (correctly) on things at least twice in the last month; most recently on the Tambellini injury article I did, where you made a pretty shrewd point about how we didn't know which questions the reporter asked. You were bang on about that, and I made a mental note to keep it in mind in the future. So some of that learning has come from things you've said here, both directly to me and to other people, so I'd have to be incredibly arrogant to say I'm a smarter guy than you. You also called me above on my use of the word "most", which was a misstatement on my part and (another) good reminder that I need to be a little more careful to word things the way I mean them rather than the way that gives the most dramatic effect. Of course, it makes sense that I'd pick stuff like that up from you; you're a professional journalist who has been writing about hockey for what, 25 years?

    As for G.M.'s, I don't see enough to honestly tell you that I'd be better at their jobs than most of them. I do know that I hated the Wade Redden deal in New York, and that I wouldn't have risked the money or term Sather did on Gaborik. I know I wouldn't have made either the Latendresse deal or the Gomez deal if I were sitting in the G.M.'s seat in Montreal. I wouldn't have risked the money or term that Tambellini did on Khabibulin, either. I've already said I wouldn't hire me for a G.M.'s job, but I look at certain deals and I'm forced to wonder what these guys were thinking.

  • @ BarryS, Jason Gregor:

    First off, Jason, your point on Kovalev sounds similar to the one I'm thinking (though maybe I'm expressing it badly). There's a ertain level we can expect him to be at (his career average) and he'll fluctuate up and down from there. When he's doing better, we don't want to imagine that as his true level, and when he's doing worse we don't want to write him off either.

    Injuries, confidence, commitment; all these things play a role in fluctuation – as does luck – but at the end of the day we expect him to return to the form he normally shows.

    And the fact that an observer can see that without stats isn't an indictment of the statistics; it's as it should be, since a competent observer and accurate statistics should show similar things. This isn't about replacing one with the other; it's about checking observation with statistics. So, to keep using the Kovalev example, someone who only saw him in 2007-08 might have thought too highly of him, but talking to either a) someone who has watched Kovalev over his career or b) a guy looking at shooting percentages should have helped him to appreciate that Kovalev probably shouldn't be expected to maintain that level of play.

  • Your about face on Zack Stortini is laudable. He is what he is. And will remain so regardless of critisism or plaudits. I myself felt the same way up until this season. Zack gets it. And by it, I mean his role and his place on the team. He knows he isn't going to be given 18 minutes a night; so he makes do with what he is given. Good for him. I tend to see him as Kevin McLelland type of player. Has a way to go in terms of his overall game. His footspeed is adequate, his hockey sense improving and his gamesmanship has risen to another level this season. Take for example the "3rd man in " the other night. Souray is coming off a concussion that saw him miss a good chunk of time. Zack read the situation and immediately took on his role as enforcer. If its a trade off between Zack and Souray I know who I'd rather have fighting. Zack is growing. Qunn likes his work ethic and coachability. The maturation of Zack Stortini is in its infancy. But I believe that Zack will prove to all of his critic's this season that he can and will be a valuable player to this team.

    teammate michael

  • What is with Souray's play over the last few weeks. He read the crowd and the papers, and went after Dany H when the Sharks came to town, leaving his D position undefended, has taken several questionable penalties, isn't finding holes with his point shot, and got the boot for bad temper the other night against St. Loo. While he's still making some space on the ice for his teammates, he seems to be making more wrongheaded plays than at any time last year. I don't believe my imagingation is playing tricks, but I don't hear or read any commentary on this –to me– painfully obvious fact.