Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Mailbag Part 2: Team Size, Team Defense, and Team Tank

I did a bit of digging and found an article from the offseason by Daniel Wagner that addressed this topic.

Based on his conclusions, there doesn’t appear to be a correlation, or at least there wasn’t last season:

Last season in the NHL, a team’s size had little correlation with the number of games they lost to injury. In fact, what little correlation there was moved in the opposite direction: larger teams actually had more injuries on average. The St. Louis Blues were one of the biggest teams last season: they lost 320 man-games to injury. The Tampa Bay Lightning were the smallest: they lost 104 man-games.

Really, the distribution looks mostly random, because it mostly is. But the clear takeaway is that bigger teams don’t get injured less than smaller teams and adding size in order to prevent injuries just doesn’t make sense.

Wagner’s article also contained this graph, which does a nice job of illustrating the distribution:

This makes sense considering that players who dole out or take a lot of hits tend to break down more quickly.

Obviously, not all big hitters are big players, but a lot are. Either way, I think it’s pretty safe to assume injuries have more to do with play style, conditioning, and pure dumb luck than size.

Not at all. Sure, the team just snapped out of an ugly eight-game skid, but I think they’ve looked better than many were anticipating. Travis Green has also made some bold choices that have paid off, not the least of which was starting Elias Pettersson at centre.

Jim Benning was patient with Willie Desjardins, who I think showed less aptitude for the job of an NHL coach over the course of his time than Travis Green has. While he’s made a few questionable lineup decisions like any other coach, his system is suited to the modern NHL and he’s done a good job of handling the team’s young players. It’s going to take more than a bad couple of weeks to put him on the hot seat.

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I don’t think you can look at the powerhouses in the Central Division and say with a straight face that the Canucks are only a few moves away from competing. Looking at the roster and the players they have in their system, I think it’s fair to say that they need to add some scoring on the wing and a couple of defensemen before they can turn things around. If it were up to me, I’d be aggressive this season in attempting to deal most of the team’s players over 25 and try to bottom out again in hopes of getting another pick in the top five. Then you can start building back up in the hopes that they can start competing as Pettersson and Hughes enter their second contracts.

I think I covered just about everything with regards to tanking so I’ll address the other two questions.

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I feel sort of uncomfortable ranking the Canucks defense because there are so many question marks right now. I’m tempted to say Edler is still their best defensemen, but his underlying numbers were genuinely horrid to start the season and he’s still returning from injury. I’ll do my best, with the caveat that there’s a lot of room for Edler and Tanev to move up or down based on how they age:

  1. Troy Stecher
  2. Alex Edler
  3. Ben Hutton
  4. Chris Tanev
  5. Derrick Pouliot
  6. Alex Biega/Erik Gudbranson
  7. Michael Del Zotto

As far as the other question goes, I think Winnipeg has more talent and potential, but Nashville is the better team right now. Winnipeg will probably overtake them as the Central’s best team within the next three years.

At this point I could really see it going either way. It’s going to depend a lot on what they choose to do with Alex Edler and/or Ben Hutton, and how they feel about Olli Juolevi. At least two left-handed defenders on the current roster will need to be gone next year just to make room for one of Quinn Hughes or Juolevi. Mchael Del Zotto will be gone for sure, which means one of Pouliot, Hutton, and Edler as the odd man out. Of that group, Pouliot makes the most sense, but if the team decides to move on from Alex Edler then I could see them bringing Pouliot back to be the seventh D.

The only things that really act as a deterrent are fines and suspensions. Players have been shamed for much worse than diving multiple times over their careers and it’s had no tangible effect. I don’t see why diving would be the exception.

I assume once he retires, yes.

Comets Cory is going to be happy with this answer, but I think Zack MacEwen makes the most sense. At some point, the numbers speak for themselves. He’s got 15 points in 21 games so far this season and has earned praise from many different corners of the hockey world. He also projects well in a bottom-six role and doesn’t have as much riding on his success as players like Jonathan Dahlen or Kole Lind, which makes him a prime candidate to make the team next season.

It’s certainly possible but I don’t think Aqualini will be keen to lose another member of the front office so soon after Linden’s exit. Regardless of what anyone involved has said, I think he’s more conscious of how he’s perceived in the market and will want to avoid looking like his presence creates a dysfunctional environment in the front office.

I addressed this a little bit in a previous question, but if I had to guess the most likely scenario, I think Hutton will be the only member of that group that returns. We’re starting to hear rumblings that the Canucks are interested in moving Alex Edler, and I think they’ll be keen to get Hughes and Juolevi into the lineup next year. Pretty much everyone agrees the defense needs a serious makeover, and there just isn’t a ton of room for movement on the right side, so I think there’s a real chance Ben Hutton is the only left-handed defenseman that returns next season.

      • Although MDZ doesn’t pass the eye test, he does pass the metrics test. He’s currently tied with Goldobin for 5v5 Corsi and Fenwick. Moreover, last year’s Corsi/Fenwick was an anomaly (~46%), he normally hovers around 50%. OwnThePuck has him with middle pairing offensive potential. Career PPG average is 0.37 PPG (~30 pts per season). Over the last 5 years, he’s been averaging 0.33 PPG (about 0.25 PPG with the Canucks). He’s a bottom pairing defenceman but an NHL defenceman, nonetheless.

        • Killer Marmot

          Last season was a tale of two Del Zotto’s. The first half was horrendous, the second solid. For example, his plus/minus was -19 before the all-star break and +11 after.

          This year I was wondering who would show up at the rink. You seem to think it’s the good Del Zotto.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Naturally much hinges on how any and all of the guys mentioned in the article play through the whole 82 games. Two rookie Ds on the blue line (OJ and Quinlan) can be very risky even for contending clubs. “Tanking” is ridiculous. Wouldn’t want to be the fly on the wall to hear any GM or coach even intimate, “Yeah, let’s lose on purpose so we can get a high draft pick.” Tell THAT to the professionals in the room and see how they’d react.

    • Jim M

      “If it were up to me, I’d be aggressive this season in attempting to deal most of the team’s players over 25 and try to bottom out again in hopes of getting another pick in the top five”

      Change “try to bottom out” to “accept that you will probably bottom out” and that sentence is fine. To purposely lose is, I believe, a terribly slippery slope.

  • TD

    I wonder if there is a correlation between injuries and travel? With extended travel comes extra fatigue which could lead to injuries. They also often play a more games in less days on the road to lower the costs. Is the injury rate higher on extended road trips across the continent? Do injuries occur more frequently on the second half of back to back games or 3 in 4 nights situations. I would imagine it would have to be tracked over multiple years because of the randomness of injuries.

    • Hockey_Warrior

      Always reaching for the excuses and denial card eh TD… so what is your excuse for this tripe then, travel?

      “A lighter work load may also give the twins fresher legs… AND give them someone of quality to play with. The stats show Eriksson is the guy. – TD

    • Defenceman Factory

      I think that is a reasonable question TD. The graph in the article shows team size and man days lost. If teams in the Pacific Division travel the most I don’t see any correlation between them with 5 of the teams under the 200 man games and 3 teams over. I think Wagner had it right, has more to do with style of play, fitness and luck.

      • TD

        My question was more related to when injuries occur. There will always be a randomness to injuries, but do the injury rates of players increase on the second half of long road trips or on after a bunch of condensed games?

  • Kootenaydude

    I don’t have Twitter but I do have a question for you Jackson. With RFAs demanding and getting so much money. Do you think teams should quit letting prospects burn a year of their entry level contract? Showing up at the end of the season and playing meaningless games just doesn’t seem right if it’s going to cost the team millions and jeopardize a Stanley Cup window of opportunity. Your thoughts.

    • jaybird43

      Remember it’s a two-way street. A hot college prospect signing after year 2 or 3 might not sign if he’s not promised to burn a year. And they only retain draft rights on a non-NCAA player for two years after drafting.

    • I would say burning a year depends on the situation and the team’s relationship with the player. Are they doing it because they want to sneak in some experience to help the prospect prepare over the off-season or to dissuade the player from holding out to skip town? I’d like to see some data that shows a statistically significant number of players are foregoing $900k in ELC money now to re-enter the draft or stay in college for the full four years. Or that burning a year hurts a team’s chances / put them in a bad financial situation. If you’re playing the long-term game and management has received a verbal commitment from the player, I see no problems with burning a year.

  • Burnabybob

    “I think it’s fair to say that they need to add some scoring on the wing and a couple of defensemen before they can turn things around.”

    I agree. Much as I want the Canucks to break out this year, I know it’s best in the long term if they finish in the bottom six or so. Hughes, Kakko, Couzens, Dach and Byram all look like they would be great picks.

    • Fred-65

      Exactly, it seems like a good draft so if we pick in the 1-7 range we should get a player that will improve the team significantly, plus I have to believe there will be at least one upgrade from the Utica roster making the squad come next September. One extra skilled player can make a big difference in line strength. Vcr is still too easy to shut down. Although better than the days the Sedins toiled away as the only forward strength Vcr just doesn’t have deep enough skill levels to pressure other teams for 60 mins

  • speering major

    I think you’re underestimating how close the Canucks would be with a lottery win. Imagine J Hughes in his sophmore season with Petterson, Boeser, and Horvat as the top 4 up front. That will stack up nicely vs almost anyone. Keep in mind that Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornquist will be near mid 30’s. Same with Backstrom, Ovechkin, Oshie. Wheeler, Bergeron, Marchand. Most of the teams with a stacked core are about to see a steady to steep decline. The Jets, Leafs, and Lightning will still be stacked and deep but half the teams in that spot right now are on the decline. Petterson and J Hughes could be a top five 1-2 two seasons from now.

    A lottery win this year would be a game changer IMO

    • truthseeker

      I would be much closer to retirement with a 6/49 win. I suppose I should dedicate 3/4 of my pay to 6/49 tickets, that way I’ll be “stacked” when I reach 65.

      • speering major

        Settle down Einstein

        Twitter: Is it time to lose for Hughes?

        CA: I don’t think you can look at the powerhouses in the Central Division and say with a straight face that the Canucks are only a few moves away from competing.

        Me: Uh what? The Canucks are likely going to be a bottom feeder this year. A lottery win this season (1 a single event) actually does put them right back on track to be a force within 2 seasons.

        • speering major

          Or you could say the comparison is so dumb because if the NHL draft lottery odds and 6/49 were the same, it would actually be a great retirement strategy. The odds someone making such a dumb comment has a large enough paycheque that it wouldn’t be a good retirement strategy is actually lower than the real odds of winning the 6/49

          • Defenceman Factory

            Truthseeker I don’t think Speering Major was, and I certainly don’t, advocating for relying on winning the draft lottery. As you say that is not a good strategy.

            When considering how far away the Canucks are from contention it’s a fair observation that winning the draft lottery would put them close to contention. I didn’t consider that advocacy for losing, reliance on winning the draft only a belief that with the best player in the draft the Canucks wouldn’t be far away.

            Your reaction to this seemed a little Dirk like. Maybe that’s too harsh but you gotta admit the 6/49 analogy is a poor one.

          • You can’t explain this to truthseeker. He can’t wrap his head around odds that aren’t 100%.

            Finishing in last place gives you the best odds of first overall, and a guaranteed top-5 pick. That’s better than finishing 25th overall, which gives you a better chance of falling to 9th or 10th overall than moving up to 1st.

            If the odds of winning 6/49 were 21% I’d be buying as many tickets as I could afford every week.

          • truthseeker

            Leave it to all you to take an analogy literally. I guess in the future I’ll have to spell everything else out so specifically so as not to confuse you with the incredibly difficult concept of hyperbole. And I’ll remember to call you all out the next time you even hint at the smallest exaggeration to make a point….lol. Didn’t realize you were all so simple minded.

            You’d be losing a lot of money Goon. Anytime you’d like to play poker online let me know. Anyone who would waste their money on 21% isn’t all that bright.

    • Burnabybob

      That’s a good point. Kakko could be a huge addition as well, especially if he can make the big team in the next year or two. I don’t think the Canucks are that far off from having a good team.