PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 18:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wachovia Center on April 18, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

There’s something truly wonderful about reading a Mike Brophy column. 

 

Taken individually, the things he does – reciting conventional wisdom from a decade previous, presenting one side of an argument but not the other in order to make his points seem much more salient than they really are, presenting arguments without supporting evidence, and restating things everybody keeping half an eye on the game have known for months – are aggravating, it’s true.  But when one combines all those elements, Brophy stops being a writer churning out bad copy and turns instead into a comic figure, someone who personifies the worst of 1990’s hockey writing.

 

His latest piece starts off considering Ilya Kovalchuk, who managed to avoid a contract on the first day of NHL free agency.  He (correctly) notes that Kovalchuk turned down a big-money deal from Atlanta, and he also (correctly) points out that it wasn’t a money issue for Kovalchuk.  Then he goes off the rails with three comments:

 

 1. “But the question remains: can you win with him?”

 

Whenever this comment comes up, I’m reminded of something Ken Hitchcock said back when he was coaching the Dallas Stars to back-to-back finals a little over 10 years ago.  The question was current at the time, thanks to Brett Hull, a player similar to Kovalchuk in that he was a phenomenal talent, a goal-scorer, regarded as selfish, and didn’t win anything over the first decade of his NHL career.  Hitchcock pointed out that his team had to carry that question (with regard to Hull as well as Mike Modano and Ed Belfour) over the course of the season, but that it disappeared after they won their first Cup.  The fact is that Kovalchuk hasn’t been in a position to win anything with the woeful Thrashers, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t win playing for a better team.  Then again, there’s also the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk owns three gold medals, the last two of them from beating Canada at the World championships in 2008 and 2009.  In 2008 he scored his only two goals of the tournament in forcing the gold medal game to overtime and then winning it, and in 2009 he was the tournament MVP en route to gold.

 

2. “The Kings need him to sell tickets more than anything else. Los Angeles has just 7,000 season ticket holders.”

Broadly, this statement applies to every team in the league: they all need to sell tickets.  Los Angeles isn’t especially good or bad at selling tickets; they were right around league average this year.  More important here is the fact that this was their best season for ticket selling in four years, that they improved sales for the third season in a row, and that they’ve turned the corner on their rebuilding work.  People watch a winning team, and L.A. is a proven market that is almost certain to respond to an improving group with or without Kovalchuk.

 

3. “And the Devils probably want him just to save face having traded for him.”

 

Leaving aside the fact that New Jersey needs to sell tickets worse than L.A. does (they’ve been in the bottom third of the league in attendance every year since the lockout, and frequently in the bottom sixth) this is an idiotic statement.  One might point out that New Jersey didn’t pay an overly dear price to acquire Kovalchuk, but that’s a tangential argument.  The fact is that Lou Lamoriello has never had trouble cutting his losses when he’s made mistakes; rather than grit it out with Vladimir Malakhov he paid the Sharks a first round pick to dump the problem, and when Lamoriello overspent the money available to him, he mercilessly dumped Alexander Mogilny into the minors.  The point is, the Devil’s G.M. doesn’t toss good money after bad; he sees his mistake, and he corrects it, regardless of the optics or the cost.

 

Thankfully, Brophy’s article doesn’t end there.  There’s this paragraph about Flames G.M. Darryl Sutter:

 

In an attempt to get his team back to the playoffs, Sutter signed Alex Tanguay, who was horrible with Tampa Bay last season, Olli Jokinen, who has been to the playoffs once in 11 years, Tim Jackman, a guy who is expected to fight, but really doesn’t like fighting, and [Raitis] Ivanans.

 

A balanced approach, it isn’t.

 

That isn’t to say that Sutter’s moves don’t deserve criticism (although for me, most of that criticism revolves around what these moves imply about his trade of Jokinen at last year’s deadline).  Alex Tanguay, for example, signed for $1.7 million.  It’s true that he had a bad year in Tampa Bay last season, but (excluding last year) since the lockout he has scored 258 points in 280 games – a pace that averages 76 points over an 82 game season.  Even including last year, his average point-per-game pace is 0.819, which translates to an average of 67 points per season.  Rolling the dice on a guy with that much firepower for $1.7 million is a very defensible move. 

 

As for Tim Jackman, that comment is so good it deserves it’s own chart.  Jackman spent his first significant time in the show in 2007-08, and here’s his fights-per-game rate over the last three seasons, compared with the other big-name fighters signed July 1 (data from hockeyfights.com):

 

Player Fights Games Played Fights/Game 82-Game Avg.
Tim Jackman 38 159 0.239 20 fights
Derek Boogaard 28 122 0.230 19 fights
Jody Shelley 42 189 0.222 18 fights
Raitis Ivanans 39 210 0.186 15 fights
John Scott 9 71 0.127 10 fights

 

I presume Brophy had some reason for making that comment, but suffice to say that if Tim Jackman hates fighting, he hides it well on the ice.

 

turning back to the New Jersey Devils, Brophy recites the hallowed annual argument that Martin Brodeur loses playoff games because of fatigue:

 

FINALLY: With the signing of Johan Hedberg as the backup goaltender in New Jersey, can we assume the Devils will finally cut back on starter Martin Brodeur’s heavy workload during the regular season? Brodeur remains one of the best, if not the very best, goalies in the NHL, but has struggled in the playoffs the past few years, looking a little burned out. If the Devils are smart, they limit Brodeur to 50 games in the regular season and hope he has enough left in the tank to carry the team through four tough rounds of playoffs.

 

Let’s do something a little unorthodox and try some research on this statement.  Since the lockout, here is Brodeur’s pre- and post-break numbers (excepting 2008-09, where he was hurt) at the NHL level, thanks to the magic of Yahoo’s split stats:

 

  2009-10 2007-08 2006-07 2005-06 Average
Pre-Break 0.915 SV% 0.919 SV% 0.928 SV% 0.910 SV% 0.918 SV%
Post-Break 0.921 SV% 0.921 SV% 0.912 SV% 0.913 SV% 0.916 SV%
Difference +0.006 +0.002 -0.016 +0.003 -0.002

 

In Brodeur’s case, there’s a negligible average difference between pre- and post-break numbers, with modest improvements in three of four years and a sharp drop off in one of four years.  This fits well with the overall NHL trend, which sees goaltenders who play heavy minutes get modestly better on average late in the season.  There’s little evidence to suggest that fatigue is responsible for Brodeur’s playoff struggles.

 

Finally, Brophy offers us his insight on the Sheldon Souray situation in Edmonton:

 

You have to wonder if the Edmonton Oilers acquiring Kurtis Foster and his big shot from the point means they intend to move disgruntled defenceman Shledon Souray. The problem is, Souray wants to play on the west coast and he may not get his wish. If Souray is healthy, he can be a very useful player.

 

No kidding.  After Souray publicly trashed management and requested a trade, it makes sense the Oilers might want to move him.  Souray’s desire to be close to his family is a matter of public record and has been restated repeatedly over the last year and a half or so.  The fact that the Oilers waited until July 1, when Souray stops having a say, is indicative that he may not get dealt to where he wants to be dealt.  Finally, everyone knows what Souray brings to the table when he’s healthy.  What I’m getting at here is that we’re not peering through the mists of uncertainty here; everything quoted above is old news or blindingly obvious.

Comments (16)

  1. good to have you back jonathan–i know you were probably only gone for a day or two but it felt like weeks. keep the researched and well-argued pieces coming, and spare me from the brophys of the world…

    one thing i’ve been reading much about lately is the whole LW and RW depth chart for edmonton. as a fairly bad amateur hockey player myself, i’ve always thought it was pretty easy shifting from one side to another, but are there any stats on this one? i remember the whole eric cole controversy about macT playing him on the wrong side (and you may have even done a piece on it back then where you analyzed if it really did make much difference–some fine oiler blogger did, anyhow), but to me it always seemed a little overblown. left and right D seem a little more legitimately different, but again, i’ve played both and as a RH shot, always felt each side had its pros and cons and it wasn’t such a big deal.

    any thoughts?

  2. thank you once again for putting some rational arguments out there. I’m sick of the Doug Macleans and the Milbury’s spewing a lot of stupid/uneducated comments which most people then take as fact.

    Cheers

  3. Regarding Brodeur, with the pre-post Allstar stats, I’m wondering if the ‘fatigue’ may show up later than that point. maybe at the 65 game limit or so. Too bad there wasn’t an easy way of checking that.

    I often argue with my friends about how good Brodeur really is, especially playing behind NJ’s system for years and years. I am not saying he is not a great goalie. But I’d be inclined to have Hasek or Roy ahead of him for the recent era; were they as insulated? (honest question)

  4. I love it when you take articles to the whipping post. Wasn’t it Brophy that you spent nearly an entire live chat ripping for some similarly uninformed comment about the Oilers cup run?

  5. Hahaha, “Broph” could do himself a favour by reading this. I applaud you Jonathan for having the patience to get through Brophy’s entire column, double applause on breaking down every cliched and moronic statement he put out there.

  6. While I see what you’re saying about the 65-game point, Thomas, I do wonder if at a certain point you don’t run into sample size issues. Depending on the season, you may wind up with only 15-20 games, which isn’t a very good basis for comparison. At least with the All-Star/Olympic break as a marker, you have a 55/30 split, which is a bit better.

  7. Jon, great article man. I read it twice with a big smile. Nice work.

  8. Wouldn’t the sample size issues be removed if you performed the analysis on enough heavy working goalies? I imagine it would not be a straight forward process, and where to draw the line is subjective without the data. I would imagine the fatigue issue may come into play if a goalie played for a team that was not as controlling with the game as the Devils. Say…Florida? It’s just a thought. Does anybody know any stats that track the Quality of chances that a Goalie faces? I recall seeing the QJMHL tracking them, but am not aware of any true hub for these stats.

  9. I guess the alternative; sophistry and fallacious statistical arguments are the preferred format of hockey writing in the new millennium. Crapping on someone else’s bad writing does not a good article make.

    Brodeur’s looked like any no name goalie in the playoffs for 2 of the past 3 years and was mediocre in the olympics and while there may be no definitive way to identify Brodeur’s decline, he is in decline. I say it’s age eroding reflexes combined with ‘fatigue’ (due to him being an over worked old man) but that’s just a guess based on the generally accepted conventional wisdom that athletic performance declines with age. Certainly, a contentious statement if there ever was one.

    Lou Lamariello and the Devils just want to save face? No, I agree. They probably do want to sign Kovalchuk for his skill and talent. I doubt they want to pay 10 million per over 10 years to do so as Lou has never really been big on paying big bucks so, they really don’t have much chance at signing him but; they’ll make noise like they want to sign him and put on a good show for their dwindling fan base. Maybe, who can say really?

    Kovalchuk’s has been to the playoffs twice in his NHL career, so what if he wins medals in a tournament where the majority of the elite don’t play. Can you win with him? Maybe at 5.5 mil but at 10 million per? Sure it’s a cliched and trite talking point but it’s valid, this isn’t quantum physics that we’re dealing with here; it’s sports writing. But, you do cite 1 tenuous example to tangentially contradict the poor sap so; you must be right about that.

    LA wants to sell tickets. Being neither good nor bad at it, you claim they have no special interest in generating some hype to help lock in revenue in a giant and hyper competitive market like LA. Of course, they are a proven entity and when they go into the bank to negotiate the operating capital loans they can cite your ground breaking work as evidence in order to negotiate a preferred rate.

    Tim Jackman almost certainly does not like fighting, I base that on the fact that he loses most of his fights, doesn’t go out of his way to dance with the big boys, averages less than 2 PIMS/game in the NHL and because he is a human being. Probably does it to stay in the league and feed his family. But I guess, if someone does something on a slightly more than sporadic basis; they must enjoy it on some level.

    Alex Tanguay sucks now. He had 38 pts in 80 games last year on a team that has a ton of firepower. Of course, those are just numbers; no need to worry that he won’t return to the form he displayed when he was in his mid twenties.

    As for Souray, who gives a flying duck about an over rated broken down defenseman playing in Edmonton? Oh, right. Everyone already knows all about Sheldon. Can you back that up or is that a sarcastic example of a one sided attempt at persuasive writing?

    Honestly, a poor effort on your part; all you have after coming back from vacation is to pick on the dumb kid in the corner? Did he spill grape juice on your Ethan Moreau rookie card or something?

    It seems ironic to me that you would use someone’s old trash to build your shiny new castle and then complain about the leaky roof and uneven floorboards.

  10. I guess the alternative; sophistry and fallacious statistical arguments

    Which is what your entire diatribe is filled with, ironically.

  11. One thing about Brophy: he never used to be this bad. When he wrote for the Hockey News for all those years, he would actually express opinions in his column at the back of the magazine that weren’t already commonly held and were occasionally even contentious. He’s become increasingly smug and dull since he was hired by Sportsnet to the point where I, as a once dedicated Brophy fan, can’t even look at his articles anymore. It’s sad. This isn’t even the best example of how lame Brophy’s writing has become.

    I haven’t renewed my Hockey News subscription either for similar reasons involving Adam Proteau and Ken Campbell, who were writing about 80% of the content in that magazine when I quit it. I’ve had enough of smug hockey writers with cushy gigs writing poor, one-sided arguments. Though in Proteau and Campbell’s case I was also tired of the perpetual references to 80′s and 90′s pop culture in the lede of virtually every article.

  12. Actually, it isn’t but thanks for playing.

  13. Actually, it isn’t but thanks for playing.

    Indeed.

    From Merriam Webster:

    Main Entry: soph·ist·ry
    Pronunciation: ˈsä-fə-strē
    Function: noun
    Date: 14th century
    1 : subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

    Main Entry: fal·la·cious
    Pronunciation: fə-ˈlā-shəs
    Function: adjective
    Date: 1509
    1 : embodying a fallacy
    2 : tending to deceive or mislead : delusive

    — fal·la·cious·ly adverb

    — fal·la·cious·ness noun

    Your statistsical argumenst (i.e. “38 points in 80 games”) are deceptive and misleading but there’s nothing subtle or nuanced about any of your opinions.

  14. Right, so you know how to use a dictionary. Bravo.
    But, you obviously don’t understand what you read. It’s ok, we all know that. You have proven it time and time over.
    Good effort though, only a brave man would jump into lake when he knows he can’t swim.

  15. “Honestly, a poor effort on your part; all you have after coming back from vacation is to pick on the dumb kid in the corner?”

    I agree with NSG, just maybe not with such a pointy stick. The first column after a vacation — if there actually was one, I haven’t been here in over a week — is always about getting the tone and “voice” back. Best to just whip one out and get it over with quickly, then ask for forgiveness from your preacher after Sunday mass.

    Brophy might be a knob, but he’s also just a knob doing what five thousand other knobs do in this country, which is to write the blindingly obvious about the comfortable in order to fill up space between ads either on the Internet or in a newspaper. Try picking on Jack Todd, he seriously needs a slap across the face.

  16. //Good effort though, only a brave man would jump into lake when he knows he can’t swim.//

    A good sole tells that man he can’t swim and not to jump in.
    JW thanks for showing Brophy he can not swim.

    Did you tell him “he should not jump in.”

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