Michael Schuckers likes numbers. Schuckers is an associate professor of statistics at St. Lawrence University and director of the school’s Quantitative Resource Center. Schuckers is also cofounder of Statistical Sports Consulting, where he applies his experience in analytics toward providing numbers-based conclusions in hockey.
There are numbers, however, that Schuckers and some of his peers in analytics do not like. They are 34, 4, and 13.5 million: Rob Scuderi’s age, the number of contract years he received from the Penguins July 5, and his total salary for returning to Pittsburgh.
Of all the signings during unrestricted free agency, the former Boston College defenseman may have landed the biggest head-scratcher.
“That’s the one that sticks out to me this year,” Schuckers said. “Pittsburgh is supposed to be a team that’s fairly analytic. All the analytics I’ve seen suggest he’s well past his prime.”
According to Schuckers, free agency provides arguably the most efficient window in the application of analytics. Studying statistics prior to the draft is not reliable in determining where a player is picked and how he projects as a professional. The standard of stats-gathering in junior, college, and high school hockey is not uniform.
But when an NHL player reaches UFA status, numbers lend brighter illumination toward future performance. In Scuderi’s case, the Penguins had eight full seasons, including four in their organization, from which to determine how much to pay the defenseman.
“At that point in someone’s career, you know a good bit about them and how they play in the NHL,” Schuckers said. “Projecting how someone is going to do when he’s 26 or 27 when he’s 18, there’s so much more variability in teams’ ability to predict that.”
Last season, Scuderi had one goal and 11 assists in 48 games with the Kings. The stay-at-home defenseman averaged 21:47 of ice time, third on the team after Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov.
The numbers that interest people in analytics, however, go deeper. The gold standard is Corsi. A player’s Corsi rating is determined by totaling a team’s shot attempts per game (shots on goal, missed shots, blocked shots) taken while that player is on the ice, minus the number of opposing shot attempts.
In theory, Corsi gauges a team’s puck possession when that player is on the ice. More shots attempted means the team is controlling the puck. More shots allowed indicates the team is on defense.
Last season, Scuderi’s Corsi (courtesy of behindthenet.ca) was 1.42. In comparison, Doughty’s Corsi was 14.84. Scuderi’s 2013 rating does not project high performance in relation to his generous $3.375 million annual payday. In the final season of his contract, Scuderi will be 38, which is not a kind age for defensemen.
Analytics, however, do not consider a player’s intangibles. Scuderi won the Stanley Cup with Los Angeles in 2011-12. In 2009, Scuderi was a valuable component — his nickname was “The Piece” — during Pittsburgh’s Cup run.
In 2013-14, Scuderi could be the left-shot partner for Kris Letang. The risk-taking Letang did not impress during the Eastern Conference finals against the Bruins, when his bold maneuvers became defensive liabilities. The Penguins believe Scuderi can help settle down Letang.
Letang is not Pittsburgh’s only young defenseman. Other blue-line prospects include Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin.
Scuderi is a quiet but respected leader. Executives, scouts, teammates, and opponents acknowledge Scuderi’s approach and leadership abilities. It is an area where statistics do not help.
“There are all the things in the locker room that happen that we have no idea about,” Schuckers said. “Those sorts of interactions make a player quite invaluable to a team.”
Another signing that’s curious to Schuckers is the two-year, $8 million contract Daniel Briere scored from Montreal. Briere will turn 36 at the start of this season. He was bought out by Philadelphia. Briere had a minus-5.7 Corsi last season. Claude Giroux’s Corsi was 0.99.
On the flip side, analytics indicate some shrewd summer signings. Among Schuckers’s approvals are Clarke MacArthur (Ottawa, $6.5 million for two years, minus-3.93 Corsi) and Viktor Stalberg (Nashville, $12 million for four years, 10.7 Corsi).
Neither qualifies as a top-tier signing. Analytics may be most effective in identifying low- and mid-range players where teams can find value.
“I think the top 100 players have something that’s easier to see with the eye,” Schuckers said. “You watch a couple dozen NHL games, Sidney Crosby is going to stand out. Patrice Bergeron is going to stand out. It’s those players who are doing the little things — playing more of the grunt minutes and energy-line minutes — where it’s harder to tell and get a sense of what their value is. It’s not as dynamic to the eye. That’s where analytics can help. I think analytics can pay a great deal of benefits monetarily.”
The NHL hasn’t fully embraced analytics. But Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish cited his analytics personnel’s endorsement of David Perron when acquiring the forward from St. Louis for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round pick.
In contrast, there is at least one club whose GM does not know how to calculate Corsi.
“If you look at some of the other sports, they’ve made some of this work,” Schuckers said, pointing to baseball’s acceptance of analytics to complement traditional scouting. “It really weighs to meld these two together. You’ve got to find the best information. The more sources you have, the better.”
Chiarelli likes hockey talk
In June, during an Olympic meeting in New York, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli gathered with the brass that will lead Team Canada in Sochi, Russia.
Chiarelli, who will serve as an assistant GM, was joined by executive director Steve Yzerman. Doug Armstrong and Ken Holland, the other assistant GMs, were also there. So was the coaching staff: Mike Babcock, Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, and Lindy Ruff.
The conversation flowed. It was chalk talk regarding forechecks, neutral-zone regroups, defensive coverages on the 100-foot-wide ice.
“There were some real good hockey minds in there,” Chiarelli said. “It was a real eye-opener in the free flow of ideas and the way guys look at games. Seeing and talking to those guys and how they look at the game, it reinvigorates you. It really does. You get into a group and talk about how the game is played and the type of players you need. You hear ideas. It’s refreshing.”
Chiarelli will have his hands on what might be the ultimate fantasy exercise. Gone are worries about cap management, trades, prospect development.
On Aug. 25, 47 players will convene in Calgary for Canada’s orientation camp. The four-day gathering — players will not skate because of high insurance costs — will be one of the checkpoints as Chiarelli and his colleagues determine Canada’s final Olympic roster sometime in December.
Just consider Canada’s options on defense. Candidates include 2010 gold medalists Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Dan Boyle. Then add defensemen such as P.K. Subban, Marc Staal, and Alex Pietrangelo to the mix. The second-hardest job — winning gold being the toughest — could be making the last cuts before leaving for Sochi.
“For the majority of the roster, it could be about being as good as your last shift,” Chiarelli said. “That’s how it will have to be. There were players that were on the cusp of making that camp. If they have real good years, they’ll come back into consideration. It will be an interesting first half of the season. I don’t know if we’re going to the next Olympics. So there’ll be a lot of guys gunning for it.”
Sides discuss deal for Seids
Peter Chiarelli has had discussions with J.P. Barry, Dennis Seidenberg’s agent, regarding an extension for the Bruins’ No. 2 defenseman. Seidenberg is entering the final season of a four-year, $13 million contract. In hindsight, Seidenberg’s current deal is a cupcake contract for the organization. Seidenberg has proven to be a big-game defenseman. In the playoffs, he’s been on Zdeno Chara’s right side. During the regular season, Seidenberg spent time on the left side. For the Bruins, the tricky part of Seidenberg’s next contract will be term more than salary. Money-wise, Carolina’s Tim Gleason (four years, $16 million) would be an accurate comparable. They are rugged, left-shot defensemen with leadership traits. Gleason, however, is 30. Seidenberg is 32. The Bruins also have to consider their blue line after 2014-15, when right-shot stay-at-homers Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid are scheduled to reach UFA status. “Dennis has been good for us,” Chiarelli said. “He’s in terrific shape. That’s tough to maintain as you get older. As far as style, we’ve got the best defenseman in the league in Zdeno who plays that style. It’s a heavy, heavy style.”
Bill Zito, who once claimed Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas among his clients, joined the dark side on Monday. Columbus hired the former agent to serve as assistant to GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Zito will be responsible for pro scouting and will be involved in college scouting, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Zito will be in an unusual position regarding James Wisniewski, his former client. On July 1, 2011, Zito somehow convinced former GM Scott Howson to sign Wisniewski to a six-year, $33 million deal. Two days earlier, the Blue Jackets had acquired Wisniewski’s negotiating rights from Montreal. The right-shot Wisniewski is a good defenseman. He is sturdy, mobile, and surly. But consider some of the defensemen who make less than Wisniewski: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Keith Yandle, Paul Martin, and Niklas Kronwall. Wisniewski (5-9—14, 22:49 of ice time per game last season) is better than none of them. On Columbus’s depth chart, Wisniewski is behind Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin. As an agent, Zito got the better of the Blue Jackets. As an executive, Zito might have to help his new boss figure out a more efficient cap structure to absorb Wisniewski’s hefty hit.
Things could change before the start of training camp, but as of now, the Bruins are not planning to extend any tryout invitations to unsigned players. Last year, the Bruins invited Jay Pandolfo to camp, then signed the former Boston University captain to a one-year deal. Previous invites include Chris Clark, Brian McGrattan, and Glen Metropolit. The Bruins do not intend to bring on additional veterans because they plan to give extensive looks to youngsters in camp for bottom-six jobs. In the mix for third- and fourth-line duty: Carl Soderberg, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, and Craig Cunningham. The Bruins may be one of the exceptions. Because of the decreasing salary cap, teams might not have space to sign an inexpensive veteran to a contract. Just among ex-Bruins, UFAs who could consider the tryout route include Wade Redden, Greg Zanon, and Andrew Alberts.
Former Columbus coach Scott Arniel will be Alain Vigneault’s right-hand man on Broadway. Arniel won’t need much time to introduce himself in the Rangers’ dressing room. His former charges include Rick Nash, Derrick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore, and Anton Stralman. Among the coaching staff’s top priorities is to get Nash to reengage himself as one of the top puck-lugging shooters in the NHL. Nash was a ghost against the Bruins in the second round of last season’s playoffs. Former coach John Tortorella believed Nash was out of shape. He probably accused Nash of much worse behind closed doors.
Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour, now the GM of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, pulled the trigger on a trade close to his heart. Gilmour shipped out son Jake Gilmour to Niagara Aug. 7. The old man said the trade was to give his son more ice time with the IceDogs. But the transaction underscores how ludicrous it is for trades to be allowed in major junior. Even veterans in the NHL can find trades life-changing. Jake Gilmour turns 17 on Monday. No team trades a player it wants. That is a very difficult message for a teenager to absorb, regardless of the situation.
Daniel Alfredsson opened up a Chris Neil-sized can of worms on Thursday. During a news conference in Ottawa, the former Senators captain acknowledged he accepted a $1 million salary for 2012-13 because he planned on retiring before the season. Of course, adding a dummy year to bring down the average annual value is cap circumvention. Fortunately for the Senators, the NHL will not pursue the matter. The league should, however, conduct a thorough investigation into Alfredsson’s hair. The 40-year-old’s lettuce is tumbling onto his shoulders. There are those in their 20s who’d like a hit of whatever Alfredsson’s on . . . One NFL idea that NHL teams should adopt for training camp and regular-season practices is the use of loud music to simulate crowd noise. Some of the rinks at full blast — Montreal’s Bell Centre and Chicago’s United Center are among the loudest — can make on-ice communication impossible. Then again, the Air Canada Centre mid-game is quieter than most practice rinks . . . Stick salute and best wishes to Naoko Funayama, who is concluding her NESN duties. Viewers will miss Funayama’s professionalism, hockey knowledge, and chemistry with her former on-air colleagues . . . The big boys open training camp on Sept. 11, which means there is less than a month until the unofficial start of fall. Had Jaromir Jagr skated as briskly as this summer has progressed, the right wing would still be a Bruin . . . The first day of camp features fitness testing. Clubs use different tests, but popular ones include the shuttle run and pull-ups. A more obscure fitness test takes place in the press box. Hockey scribblers, in the mold of Seinfeld’s “The Contest,” gauge their willpower by foregoing donuts for as long as possible. Odds are slim that I will cede the role of Kramer.