On Friday we posted an article in which we mistook a fake twitter account as genuine. I say that to make clear that we at RMNB make mistakes all the time. So when I go medieval on this article below, please know I do it with a degree of self-awareness.
On Sunday morning, The Hockey Writers published an article about the Caps by Tim Bourcier. Titled “Caps Back to Early Playoff Exit Status with Grabovski Signing”, the article contains some of the most worrying hockey writing I’ve read this year. Normally I’d just ignore something like this and starve it of pageviews, but this example is egregious. Every once in a while, we should give voice to the debate so that we might shout down the trolls all the louder.
- “Caps Back to Early Playoff Exit Status with Grabovski Signing”
A fine piece of trolling in the title. The Capitals surely have a reputation for getting bounced from the post-season early, and Caps fans have dealt with bombast like this ever since Tony Kornheiser coined “choking dogs” back in 1987 (or whenever). But I’m not sure that’s a) an actual meaningful status , or b) something the Caps ever lost considering they’ve lost in the first or second round every year since 2008.
- “Time to separate the facts from the hyperbole.”
An author flatly proclaiming to be The Arbiter of Truth is never a good sign.
- “First, the Capitals cannot re-sign Mike Ribeiro at a decent price and he heads off to Nashville.”
Ahh yes, the desert paradise of Nashville. The Jewel of Arizona. The Southwest’s own Music City. Powder City, AZ. Athens of the Southwest. America’s least sustainable city. Tennessee’s urban heart. (Ribeiro signed with Phoenix.)
- “The Capitals problem was never scoring goals.”
The Caps were shut out eleven times in 2010-11. Their goals per game fell from 3.27 in 2008-09 to 2.67 in 2010-11. I write recaps of about 75 Caps games a year; don’t tell me scoring goals was never a problem.
- “It is a stretch if Schultz and Hendricks roles will be adequately replaced.”
I love Matt Hendricks, but replacing a fourth line grinder is about as tough as finding a spare $800K in Uncle Ted’s wallet. Schultz was scratched for almost half of last season, so I’d consider him replaced since the beginning of April.
- “Washington did re-sign defensemen Karl Alzner and Tomas Kundratek, which made the offseason not a complete coup for free agents.”
And thank goodness. If the Caps not did not re-sign Karl Alzner (which they did on July 10), I’d be picketing outside the McPhee house, and I would not be alone there. Though I doubt the extent to which the market was clamoring for Kundratek.
- “But again, the problem in Washington is defense and nothing was done to shake up the old guard.”
I actually agree with this point. I feel dirty.
- “The Capitals just have a hard time with the salary cap and likely for other reasons (which could be discussed at length) attracting big time free agents.”
The whispering campaign continues: Surely, with its comfortable suburbs, cosmopolitan city center, the team’s focus on offense, and a player-centric coach in Adam Oates, DC is a toxic anathema to free agents. No. At this point, innuendo about the Caps locker room is more damning for the speaker than the subject. When you read a line like that, you know to doubt everything surrounding it.
- “. . . His Corsi-in and Corsi-out and other advanced stats show that he will make his teammates better.”
I think the writer means Corsi On and Corsi Off– measurements of how the ice “tilts” when a player is on or off the ice based on shot attempts. You’d think with eight years experience as a statistician, Mr. Bourcier would be bothered to look up the names of the stats. Or at least copy them accurately from the source articles (which include RMNB! Yay! Thanks for the link!).
- “Oh, and puck possession—Grabovski really can possess that puck.”
The writer says this right after the line about Corsi, which makes me wonder if he understands that Corsi is already a measurement for possession or that we’ve been talking about shot attempts this whole time.
- “Here is what we know about Grabovski in facts.”
I like the use of italics here, as if all the shot-attempt statistics before were somehow counterfactual. As if any statistics except the ones shown on an NBC Sports chyron are myth. But that’d be a curious opinion for a fellow with an nigh-PhD in economics and nearly a decade in statistics experience.
- “Could it be argued Toronto was better when Grabovski was playing less?”
Sure, you could argue that. But you’d lose that argument. By a lot. Toronto Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets basically killed a small pixelated forest on this topic (also, also, also, also).
- “In the last playoff year, Grabovski put up two assists in their seven game series.”
Mike Ribeiro had just one goal and one assist in his seven-games playoff series. So what? A seven-game sample during which Grabovski was used exclusively as a defensive player is not convincing evidence of anything. As a measure of either player in the long run, it’s nearly worthless.
- “They picked up a guy way down the list from who they were really going after and someone no one else really wanted.”
Grabovski was the object of a bidding war (with 7-12 teams in the running depending on whom you ask) throughout the offseason– a war won by Washington based on the coach’s appeal. Yes, Grabovski was bought out by Toronto (“the opposite of smart” according to Steve Dangle), but he was far from unwanted.
- “At times Grabovski has score more goals than Riberio, but he has little, unproductive playoff experience and he is now on a team that needs a lot of playoff help.”
The best predictor of playoff success is regular-season success– John Druce in 1990 excepted. Actually, Druce is a pretty good example of how tiny samples of playoff performance don’t tell you much about the player overall.
- “Two years in a row, Laich is getting demoted for two one-year contract guys that are basically patching holes in the roster.”
Laich played nine games last season. He was not demoted, he was injured. And further, I’d argue that getting an assignment as a defensive forward with lots of special teams work is not a demotion; it’s playing a crucial role. Laich’s boxcar stats will suffer, but he’ll be helping his team win games. Knowing Brooks’ attitude and reputation as a team player, I bet he’ll be cool with that. He’s already got that steady paycheck after all.
- “At the end of the day, even with the Grabovski signing, the Caps offseason has been a net loss.”
Except when measured by, ya know, measurements.
- “Defense is their main issue.”
And the broken clock has now been correct twice today.
But the substance of his argument make me suspicious that this article wasn’t written to explore a topic. It seems to me the author already had a conclusion in his head, (which I summarize as “lol @ caps”), and he rotely went about buttressing that conclusion with bad data, insinuations, faulty logic, false history, imprecise comparisons, one very worrying geographical mix-up, and enough troll bait to keep everyone under the bridge happy until October.
It’s fine to state an opinion like “the Caps will be worse off in 2013-14”, but the reasons underpinning that opinion should be transparent and accountable, particularly if you’re writing for a site like The Hockey Writers.
I know I went for a few cheap jokes in this refutation, and I hope that doesn’t turn anyone off from participating in the conversation. More discussion is good, more people talking is very good, more jokes is doubleplusgood.