Friday, May 13, 2011

Sean Bergenheim vs. Fernando Pisani

One of my friends used to play hockey growing up. According to him, this makes him far superior to me in understanding how hockey works, because he played in games and tournaments and coaches right up until his 17th birthday.

A "debate" we routinely get into is the effects of momentum on the game. Naturally, I agree with Kent Wilson on the issue and a number of things struck me as odd in the first season that I started watching hockey with a more analytical eye--certain things have more of an effect on the game than others. I posted on his Facebook wall after the Sharks shook off their three-game losing streak and closed out Detroit:
Momentum: [n] 1: force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events. 2: a bullshit sports premise.
A good shift usually results in a goal, a powerplay or an offensive zone faceoff, so success directly after the good shift can be attributed to "momentum" even though the immediately preceding period before a goal set the team up to have a direct positive benefit. I can point to a long possession by the Canucks in the offensive zone in Game 7 of the Chicago series, however, the faceoff ended up in the Vancouver zone at the end of it, so any positive effect was wiped, despite a cheering crowd.

My own research shows that a significant amount of goals (25-30%) go against the flow of play. In the San Jose/Detroit Game Seven, Patrick Marleau scored to make it 3-1 late in the third period, which should have been the dagger, however, Pavel Datsyuk put one in not just a minute later to bring the Red Wings deficit right back to within one. The "momentum" gained by the goal meant nothing. For all the momentum shifts the talking heads were discussing throughout the game, I wondered whether there was actually any benefit to having "momentum" if it changes so often.

I relate this back to this silly argument with my buddy. He's a great guy, but some people are convinced that anybody who played hockey being better at interpreting the game is no more ridiculous than me complaining to a cardiologist that I'm more qualified to be one because I had heart surgery.

Would Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe make a better General Manager than Mike Gillis? The more apt comparison, said my friend, was Kevin Lowe and Steve Yzerman (he seems unaware that Kevin Lowe had his own Hall of Fame-calibre career in his own right). I think that Tampa Bay's performance this season is overstated due to a low goal-differential and high percentages throughout the playoffs, but Yzerman has done a wonderful job with the Bolts and turned around a train wreck of a team from two years ago mired in ownership issues and mis-management into a very respectable playoff team. It's only fitting that Tampa should get a little bit of puck-luck. I digress.

After two rounds of the playoffs, Sean Bergenheim has 7 goals, 1 assist, and one impending contract (his $700K deal is set to expire on July 1st). After two rounds in 2006, Fernando Pisani had 7 goals, 1 assist, and one impending contract. Neither player are known as scorers and are mid-teen goal per season performers. The difference is Bergenheim is probably playing at a more sustainable rate. He is shooting at 19.2%, still elevated, compared to Fernando Pisani's 39% through two rounds of the playoffs.

Despite this, I still think that Sean Bergenheim will not be given the same 4 year/$10M contract by Steve Yzerman as was offered to Pisani by Kevin Lowe after his 2006 playoff run. He finished that one with 14 goals and 4 assists, and turned out to be one of the first of many, many dumb contracts given out by the Oilers in the cap era.

Yzerman, who studied management in the salary cap system under brilliant minds as Ken Holland and Jim Nill, who have seen Detroit remain a contender through two generations of players, probably knows best to not re-sign Bergenheim to more than he's worth. How Yzerman plays this, along with Steven Stamkos' impending contract this summer, will be Steve Yzerman's first real test as an NHL General Manager.


  1. Geez, still working that heart surgery thing, huh? .

    You're right on the mark as far as momentum goes. Everyone who discusses the subject fails to define what they mean by it. Man U has a two decade momentum going, which doesn't mean they win the Champions League this year. The Canucks had season long momentum going, there were periods where we would watch and believe they could win no matter how they played. Tampa has won seven in a row. Want to bet on them in Game One against Boston? I'll take your cash. Within the game, the period, the shift, there are swings of momentum. Which level are we discussing when we say "They've got ,momentum"? If you have the puck, you have momentum.

    And if you're Steve Yzerman, you don't consult Kevin Lowe on contract negotiation. Which is why he's Steve Yzerman.

    And tell your friend he's wrong. I played a some hockey, as you know, a little past my 17th birthday. When my team and the puck, we had momentum in the moment.

  2. Yeah. Me and another one of my buddies (who also didn't play) now refer to momentum as the team who currently has the puck.