All posts by Head

Head is a man who hates stupidity and loves accuracy.

Brodeur: The Greatest to Ever Play the Game

For those of you who agree the with title, read no further. For those of you who disagree with the title, get serious.

I am writing this brief article in response to a segment that I saw on The Score, whereby you could visit some silly social media site and post whether you thought Brodeur was the greatest goalie to ever play the game. My first thought was how bush league The Score was because no one would ever disagree that he is the greatest goalie ever. However, it turns out that Steve Denby from Small Town, Nova Scotia (fabricated name and location – but you get the idea) believes otherwise. Assuming that Mr. Denby is just the tip of an iceberg of idiots I became overwhelmed with rage, thus forming the stimulus for me to shed a bit of light on this issue.

I create a summary of what I believe to be some key statistics for Brodeur, Roy and Sawchuk (see below). In five of the seven categories Brodeur takes the cake. Also, consider that in the context of some other useful statistics:

  • Brodeur has never had a save percentage under 0.900
  • Brodeur has never have a GAA over 2.60
  • Brodeur did not breed uncontrollable rage into his offspring, causing them to skate the full length of the ice, massacre an innocent goalie, and then go to the US to pursue a country singing career.

Brodeur 1

The metric cannot be injury

Booth

It is human nature for people to be concerned when others get injured. However, I think that these emotions that prevent people from being objective when evaluating whether a hit is ‘clean’ or not, and frankly I find it extremely frustrating.

It is not entirely the fault of empathetic fans who can’t stomach an injury, the precedent was set by the NHL. Specifically, the structure of the high-sticking penalty, whereby if blood is drawn a minor is upgraded to a double-minor, laid the groundwork for this problem. At the most fundamental level, this rule does not make sense because blood is not necessarily (and in many cases is simply not) correlated with the seriousness of an injury. By upgrading or downgrading a penalty based on ‘visible blood flow’ the NHL has effectively indicated that injury will dictate how illegal a player’s actions are and not necessarily the actions themselves. Importantly, this takes the control away from the player and into the hands of chance, which to any rational human does not make sense.

The chance of an injury occurring can be determined by the the interaction of eight variables (outlined below); consider this a simplified model for the purposes of discussion.

Chance of Injury = [(velocity of player A)*(mass of player A)*(position of player A)*(individual differences in player A anatomy)]*[(velocity of player B)*(mass of player B)*(position of player B)*(individual differences in player B anatomy)]

Assuming normal distribution of each of these variables (as would be anticipated) it is quite plausible that these could combine to create an injurious event. Furthermore, given that athletes are getting faster (due to advances in training and nutrition) and that one-quarter of these variables are velocity related, it is not surprising that we are seeing a rise in the frequency and severity of injuries.

Most importantly however I want to draw attention to the variable ‘individual differences in player anatomy’. This variable reflects how prone a given player (or part of a player) is to injury. For example, lets take Eric Lindros who because of his upbringing (nurture) and genetics (nature) was extremely prone to concussions and Alex Ovechkin who because of those same factors (nature and nurture) is not as injury prone (Ovechkin has only missed 1 game in 4 years due to injury). Assume both players, who are approximately 240 lbs, are skating at the same speed and exposed to the same border-line illegal open-ice hit by Chris Pronger. The result: Eric Lindros gets a concussion and Alex Ovechkin does not (and probably snipes 3 more goals). All variables are the same in this scenario except ‘individual differences in player anatomy’ (Ovechkin vs. Lindros). I can’t help but think that in this scenario two things would happen: (1) Pronger would be suspended for the hit on Lindros and not for the hit on Ovechkin; (2) There would be an outcry resulting from the Lindros injury whereas the Ovechkin hit might not even make the 2 minute game highlights on ESPN.

The problem with this is simple: the NHL (and NHL fans alike) have made the key metric for deciding whether a hit is ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ a variable that an ‘attacking player’ has NO CONTROL over. It is a standard business practice to base pay incentives on factors that people have control over, similarly, it only makes sense to punish a player (or employee) based on something that is in their  control.

To be clear, I am not advocating for injuries in hockey, in fact I would be in favor of  rule changes going forward to ensure that injuries stopped determining whether a hit is legal or not. If injuries are a concern (as evaluated by the NHLPA – those who play the game) then there should be a re-structuring of what makes a hit illegal. For example, making it illegal to hit a player while in a vulnerable position could be an option. One suggestion I would have around this would be that it not be an in-game penalty, but be evaluated after the game with proper footage and vantage point (but NOT medical records) so that an objective decision can be made.

Although the NHL has been better as of late in eliminating the ‘injury’ factor from determining suspensions (e.g. Booth hit) the system is not where it needs to be. At the end of the day It’s either a clean hit or not. If the NHL is uncomfortable with the increased frequency and severity of injuries they should change the rules and stop punishing players for things that they don’t have control over.

Ben Johnson hired as Canada’s sprint coach

McGwire

Though Ben Johnson HAS NOT been hired as Canada’s sprint coach, the Cardinals have done the next best thing and hired Mark McGwire as their hitting coach. Though arguments could be made for the merits of this decision, I believe that in the long-run this will be a poor decision for both publicity and pure baseball reasons.

Given McGwire’s history of dealing with the media and the countless accusations around his drug use, this decision will reflect poorly on the Cardinals – and in fact it already has. McGwire has a knack for making the best decisions when confronted with controversy in the media. For example, during his in court testimony, regarding his alleged drug use, he refused to talk about the ‘past’; unfortunately Mark, it turns out that this is the primary tense used in court – so thanks for your contribution to the investigation. Perhaps revising his previous stance somewhat, McGwire was a no-show for the very press conference that appointed him to his new role; maybe he now also refuses to talk about the future.

McGwire being appointed as a hitting coach quite simply reflects poorly on the league and is another example of steroid issues being swept under the rug. However, I am not even convinced that he is hitting coach material. Lets just review the facts.

  1. While on steroids McGwire can hit home runs. Specifically, during his career he averaged one home run for every 10.61 at bats, which is the best ratio of all time. The second best ratio of all time is held by Ryan Howard at 11.32.
  2. McGwire is a career 0.263 hitter.
  3. McGwire averaged 138 Ks per year.

While Ryan Howard is no doubt a great player, I think that even given his post season success we can all agree that he is probably not hitting coach material, primarily because of his low batting average and high Ks. The very characteristics that prevent Howard from being hitting coach material are shared by McGwire, except that McGwire has the added downside of having a serious steroid stigma. To put some of these numbers into perspective, Steve Henderson (hitting coach for Tampa Bay) posted a career 0.280 average and batted as high as 0.306 while Kevin Seitzer (hitting coach for KC) posted a career 0.295 batting average.

Call me a cynic, but I just don’t see this being a strong decision either from a publicity standpoint or a pure baseball standpoint.