Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Back to the Future


Emotionally Canuck fans were delighted by the decision to bring Trevor Linden back into the organization. He is the most popular player in team history and while he was not born in the city, he has become a Vancouver boy. Everyone really wants to see him succeed. If he accomplishes nothing else this summer, Trevor has the fans setting aside the pitchforks.

While the heart is happy, the head is still worried. I do think Linden is smart enough to do the job and his personal relationship with key members of the team is a big advantage. (He will get a very good idea of the state of the dressing room when he does exit interviews with ex-teammates Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Bieksa and Edler.) On the other hand, he has no experience, he’s six years away from the game, and his tenure as NHLPA President ended about as badly as it could end.

Furthermore, it niggles at the head a bit because Aquilini isn’t dumb and he knew that this move was about the only option he had to get the fans back onside. If Linden hires Jay Feaster because he and Tortorella can get along, I will suspect that the owner is calling the shots behind the Linden brand.

Since Feaster would be awful, the alternatives – Laurence Gilman or one of the other Assistant GM names being bandied about – are also new to the general manager’s chair. The top of the hockey operation will be woefully inexperienced.

I don’t think it was an accident that Linden mentioned calling Pat Quinn at the press conference, and that they both appeared on a local CBC radio feature this morning. The ceremony honoring Quinn on Sunday night has been long in the works, but we’ll see Linden and Quinn featured prominently together again. The fans will love it and they will also love to hear that Quinn has been hired to act in a Scotty Bowman like senior advisor to the president role.

I don’t whether it will happen or whether it will work if it does happen, but it sure feels like it is back to the future for the Vancouver Canucks.

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101 Responses to “Back to the Future”
  1. beingbobbyorr says:

    A project for the MoneyPuck* crowd would be to go through the history of hockey (back to the 1960′s, even) and research all the former players (minimum of ??? games played in NHL or WHA) who, after their playing career, spent significant time** steering the ship of an NHL team as one of . . . .

    Head Coach
    GM (does assistant GM count? they tend to handle contracts & the AHL farm club)
    President of Hockey Operations

    . . . . and create the scatter-charts (one each for the 3 categories outlined above) of how much success they had as a player (their personal, individual stats) vs. how much success their teams have when*** they manage/coach (regular season W-L record + how deep into playoffs). The heuristic guess, when it comes to coaches at least, is that the better the player, the worse they do behind the bench (Gretzky, Rocket Richard). But I’m not sure whether hockey fans have made any similar ad hoc conclusions about prominent-NHL-players-turned-GMs (Bobby Clarke & Bob Gainey? Thumbs up. Rogie Vachon, Garth Snow, John Ferguson, Sr.? Thumbs down).

    * No matter how often I use this term in hockey blog comments, I can’t seem to displace “Hockey Analytics” or “Advanced Stats”. Oh well.

    ** Pat LaFontaine probably doesn’t make the cut, since he seems to head for the exits (NY Islanders, Buffalo Sabres) before the ink dries on his business cards. And Patty Roy needs a few more seasons to boost his sample size.

    *** Need a time-lag adjustment to account for the inertia that delays their influence anytime a new leader comes or goes.

  2. DS says:

    Some decisions work, some decisions don’t work. What’s important in evaluating whether someone is the right person to make decisions going forward is not whether their previous decisions worked out, it’s whether they had a sound decision-making process. (If you like: whether previous decisions were more likely to succeed than fail, independently of whether they actually ended up succeeding than failing.)

    I was a big fan of Gillis on this score. Most decisions that he made, I think you could see where he was coming from, including the ones that ultimately didn’t work (most notably the acquisition of Booth, Ballard). There were of course exceptions, e.g. signing Sturm and hiring Tortorella (though by the sound of things the Torts hire may not have been made by, ahem, Gillis’s usual decision-making process).

    The worry now is that we end up with someone old-school who makes decisions on instinct and gut, someone who will get taken to the cleaners by GMs who are putting all available information to use. (Linden having been out of hockey for six years doesn’t help here. The decision-making process in hockey has changed considerably.) If you don’t value your assets correctly, it’s far too easy to leak a little bit of value on every move you make.

    (Torts of course drives me crazy. I don’t see any sound basis for anything he does.)

    Be all of that as it may, I can see that it may have been time for a change at the top of the team. There’s a narrative that Gillis is widely disliked around the league, and that this impacted his ability to get things done. I’m prepared to believe it, just looking at the way other GMs tried to play him on Luongo and Kesler (and compare to what Yzerman was able to get for an ancient Marty St Louis).

    So to my mind the question is, are there any GM candidates out there who combine these virtues: firmly part of the old-boy network on the one hand, but a modern and sound decision-maker on the other hand? Gilman must fit the second category, but does he fit the first? Jim Benning and Paul Fenton must fit the first category, but do they fit the second?

    • Tom says:

      I agree with what you wrote about Gillis. I think that in almost all cases, he. had the right idea. (The Luongo mess being the big exception. Once he signed him to the lifetime deal, he was committed. He should have traded Schneider a year earlier.)

      I don’t agree that the process of decision making has changed though. There is a new generation of GMs coming along but I think they need the same basic mix of management skills.

      • DS says:

        Here’s a basic example. Let’s say you have the #20 overall pick in the draft. I want to trade up, and offer you the #25 pick together with the #X pick. For what values of X do you accept the trade? If X = 26, surely you say yes, while if X = 210 presumably you say no. Where would you draw the line? A competent team nowadays should have developed a method for answering this question that is not just instinct, or else they can be taken to the cleaners by a team that does have a reasonable method for valuing draft picks.

        There’s a lot more information available about the players than there used to be, and someone who is willing (and competent) to use it is in a better position to succeed than someone who isn’t.

        • Tom says:

          There isn’t a lot more information available about Junior players today, except that teams have a lot more video of the North American prospects. Once the obvious players are gone, the question becomes “Which 18 year old player will improve the fastest over the next five years?” and “If he does improve how good can he be?” Even if we could use data to decide which junior was the best right now, it cannot tell us which junior will be better tomorrow.

          I think these kinds of deals come about because there is a lot of subjectivity, biases and guesswork involved. Teams see prospects differently. If team A has pick 20 but covets a player who is unlikely to go before pick 30, they may as well try to trade down. They will try to find a team who had a guy at 15 and is still available.

          • beingbobbyorr says:

            I’ve been saying for years that teams could save money by cutting back on their amateur scouting staffs considerably and focusing the remaining scout’s time on the players thought (by Central Scouting) to go in the first two rounds.

            If you look at complete draft classes (meaning drafts where essentially all the players have finished their careers by now and the data is final; say drafts from 1993 on backwards in time) and bin all the players by round (or 20 x 5% increments or 10 x 10% increments), you find that after the first two rounds or so, the standard deviation (or the mean average deviation) is usually greater than the average number of NHL man-games the NHL gets per draft pick (in that bin).

            Meaning: from the 3rd through last round, a team might have just as much success with those picks if they threw darts at a dart board (populated with the next 20 or 30 names still available from central scouting’s draft list). The fact that they don’t is a testament to people’s illusions of control & forecasting.

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  13. JeremyOK says:

    So much has happened with the Canucks since Linden’s arrival — I’d love to hear the Tom Benjamin take on the current state of the team. Feels like it’s more difficult than usual to predict how things might shake out this year. Very curious to see what happens when the puck drops.

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