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:
|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%|
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.