Sunday, September 7, 2014

What to expect when you're expecting Nikita Nikitin

When the Oilers signed Nikita Nikitin to a 2 year $9MM contract this summer, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth from across the spectrum of Oiler fans.

There were two major complaints:

1) He's a 3rd pairing Dman and the Oilers already have lots of those

2) His salary is far too much for what he brings

Let's focus on #1 to start.

What kind of Dman is Nikita Nikitin?

Columbus' top 4 Dmen last year were Tyutin-Johnson and Wisniewski-Murray.

An argument can be made that its a knock against Nikitin that he lost his job to Murray, but you can also look at it as they choose Nikitin to hand hold two young Dmen in Savard and Prout.

Savard and Prout both spent significant time in the AHL over the previous 2 seasons and entered last year with 35 NHL games and 33 NHL games played respectively.

You really don't want your prized D prospect in Murray learning the ropes in the bottom pairing with other rookies.

Let's see how Nikitin did: (courtesy of


56% of Nikitin's 5v5 TOI was with Savard

Nikitin w/ Savard 49.3%CF
Savard without Nikitin 46%CF

22% of Nikitin's 5v5 TOI was with Prout

Nikitin w/ Prout 52.4% CF
Prout without Nikitin 48.4%CF

In both cases Prout and Savard's most common pair partner other than Nikitin was Jack Johnson so you can argue that their CF% takes a hit due to higher level of opponent, but also Because Jack Johnson.

What do we take away from this?

He helped calm the waters for a couple of young players, but almost exclusively on the 3rd pairing.

Both Savard and Prout shoot right, so its reasonable to expect that Nikitin played on the left side.

As we will see in 12/13 Nikitin seemed to get into Todd Richard's dog house in the last half of the year and went from playing 1st pairing to 3rd.

He only really saw 3rd pairing in his last year in CBJ.


Nikitin played both a 1st pairing role with Tyutin and a 3rd pairing role with raw rookie Prout.

These two players make up his partners for 90% of his 5v5 TOI, so lets focus on those two.

Nikitin with Tyutin 48.1%CF
Nikitin without Tyutin 44.8%CF

Its also interesting that Tyutin's most common partner aside from Nikitin was Jack Johnson and together the Tyutin/Johnson combo put up 44.4%CF  Because Jack Johnson.

Nikitin with Prout 44.5%CF
Nikitin without Prout 47.7%CF.

So we see Niktin getting reasonable results on the tough match up pair with Tyutin, and then falling down significantly with raw rookie Prout.

Nikitin's results with Tyutin are encouraging and it seems he was a better option there than Johnson (natch) and did hand holding with a raw rookie.

He ended the season with "2nd pairing" QC stats and tougher zone starts.  We see from his actual partners that this was due to a mix of usage between 1st and 3rd pairing.

Tyutin shoots left, but plays the right side, and Prout shoots right and plays right, so its reasonable to suggest that Niktin played the left side.

This was Todd Richards' first year as Head Coach of CBJ.  He took over January 9th when Arniel was fired.

Scott Howson, who traded for Nikitin was let go as GM of CBJ in February 2013.

Nikitin started the year with Tyutin, but Richards decided to change that up and the results was actually worse for Tyutin's CF%

Richards saw Nikitin bad.


Nikitin played mostly tough comp pairing with Tyutin, and then a real grab bag of partners and situations after that.  This is the year that Nikitin was traded to CBJ from STL.

Scott Arniel is Head Coach of CBJ this year.

I'll list his top partners on CBJ only.

Tyutin 573 min together
Lebda 136 min together

Nikitin with Tyutin 54.1%CF
Nikitin without Tyutin 46.4%CF
Tyutin without Nikitin 47.9%CF

Like in 12/13 both players are better together than apart.  The NHL is full of these types of pairings where players just seem to click and put up their best results together.

Nikitin with Lebda 45.7%CF
Nikitin apart 51.4%CF
Lebda apart 47.3%CF

Both players much better apart.  Its also important to note that this was Lebda's last NHL season.  He played a year in the AHL in 12/13 and then did not play last year.

What did this tell us about Nikitin?

There's a case to be made that Nikitin is more than just 3rd pairing Dman.

His results with Tyutin over the years are respectable and Tyutin does better with Nikitin than any other Dpartner that he had over the last 3 years.

Tyutin's 3 most common partners from 11/12-13/14

Johnson 47.5%CF
Nikitin 51.1%CF
Wisniewski 50.6%CF

Nikitin seems to be the best option (note: his results in 13/14 with Tyutin were horrible (26.6%), but it was only 40 min together and a sample that small isn't to be trusted next to the 860 min they played together the 2 years previous)

Over the same 3 years Nikitin got spot duty with Wisniewski.

The sample is never big for any year, but over 3 years they played 123 min together and put up a gaudy 56.9%CF.

Its funny that they were never together more as Wis is RH and should have been a natural with Nikitin.

Todd Richards seems to see him really bad and pushed him down the depth chart, despite that Nikitin is a superior partner for Tyutin than Johnson when looking at CF%.

Actually Nikitin shows up as a superior partner than Johnson for everyone. Because Jack Johnson.

So I think CBJ may actually be making a mistake by not re-signing Nikitin to play with Tyutin or Wis and keeping Johnson around.

Why did CBJ let him go?

With CBJ locked into Tyutin, Johnson, Wisniewski and Murray, there's no room on the roster to retain Nikitin as a 3rd pairing Dman.  Even if the Oilers didn't give him $4.5MM, he was going to get paid by someone, and probably at least $3MM-$3.5MM and its not good roster management to have that on your 3rd pairing.

CBJ has Prout ($1MM - who I like) and Savard ($1.3MM - who I don't like) to fill out the bottom pairing.  Don't forget that Erixon  ($600K) continued to stew in the minors (who I like more than Savard)  last year and is not waiver exempt this year, so he'll probably make the opening night roster as well.

Is he worth $4.5MM x 2 years?

Short answer is no.  Nothing Nikitin has done suggests that this is a reasonable salary for him, but I understand how that number came about.

MacT looks at his LHD and sees this as his depth chart at the end of June (my opinion in terms of ranking):


You can see in a few years that Marincin, Klef and Nurse are probably your 3 Dmen (assuming the Good Gord willing and the creek don't rise), and Ference on a 3 year NMC is probably here for the duration.

The question is how do you get there in one piece?

The answer is a 2-3 year contract with a LHD who has a history of playing tougher minutes.

You don't want to give up an asset in trade, so UFA market is the answer.

LHD who *might* be able to fill that role and were UFA this summer: (and what they signed for)

Ehrhoff $4MM x 1 year
Orpik $5.5MM x 5 years (egad!)
Robidas $3MM x 3 years
Boyle $4.5MM x 2 years
Stralman $4.5MM x 5 years
Meszaros $4.125MM x 1year
Niskanen $5.75MM x 7 years
Mitchell $4.25 x 2 years

Hmmmm, after seeing those salaries maybe $4.5MM isn't that far off the mark, but Nikitin has much less experience at tough pairing than those above.

Orpik, Robidas, Boyle and Mitchell are done as effective Dmen in my opinion.

Ehrhoff signs with an Eastern Conference contender for 1 year to set himself up for his last long term contract.  That wouldn't happen here.

Meszaros has a pretty spotty record and injury history.

Niskanen cashes large and long.

Stralman cashes large and long

Niskanen or Stralman would have been good signings, but perhaps the Oilers didn't want to go long term with the young talent they have at LHD, or perhaps the players weren't warm to coming here. (I firmly believe that tampering is rampant after the playoffs end and FA talks don't start on July 1st)

Either way that doesn't leave a lot of choices.

EDM trades for Nikitin.  Howson believes that Nikitin can fill the role.

Nikitin's agent *knows* he has EDM over a barrel and makes them pay.

I honestly think its that simple.

To MacT's credit 2 years is almost ideal if Nikitin can fill the role and Marincin, Klefbom and Nurse progress as hoped.


Nikitin has a history of playing tougher minutes with a good partner and doing well.

Unfortunately that history isn't that long and his most recent year was spent exclusively on the 3rd pairing.

In that last year he mentored two rookies and did reasonably well given the situation.

A GM who traded for him once, still believes in him and worked to get him here.

Its only a 2 year contract and if he is passed by any of the young D its not a crime to drop him down the depth chart.

He pushes Ference down the depth chart and that is a very good thing as he is aging and doesn't seem to be able to handle top 4 competition anymore.

Its a short term fix that needed an overpay to happen, but given the Oilers' salary cap situation they had the ability to do this.

I like that MacT and Howson were aggressive to fill an obvious hole in the roster and I also think that he'll surprise many of his critics who refer to him as just a 3rd pairing Dman.

I think he's more than that.

Time will tell.

Is it October yet?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The evolution of MSM sports writers during my lifetime and how they can still be relevant to well informed fans

When I was a kid in early 80's I couldn't wait for the weekly TV guide to come out in the Edmonton Journal.
I would quickly flip the "sports" section and look at ITV on Wednesday night to see who was playing the Oilers on the weekly televised game.

Tim Spelliscy would host the game and that was our weekly look at the most dominant franchise in the NHL.  The rest of the time we'd have to listen to the radio or hope the Oilers were playing the Leafs or Habs so we would get a Saturday night game to watch.

Once in a while they'd throw us peasants in the colonies a bone and show WIN vs EDM on CBC.

That's it.  One night of live viewing a week.

If the Oilers were playing in Vancouver or LA, then game didn't start until 8:30pm, but I didn't even have to ask my parents to stay up late, it went without saying.

The day after the game I'd read the write up in both papers.  Terry Jones, Jim Matheson, Cam Cole and Dick Chubey.

They'd have quotes from the players and coaches as well as summary and their take on the game.  I needed them to follow the Oilers.  They were the conduit through which most of my information flowed.


Now every game is televised.  Stats sites have(or had)  real time (or close) shot attempt differentials and TOI.

Post-game scrums with players are up on the Oilers site shortly after the game and you can watch the coach's post-game presser live.

The piece in the paper with the summary, player's quotes and coach's quotes contain no new information for the fan like me who has already consumed this info via watching the game and then the post game presser and scrums.

I don't think that my type of fandom is the norm.  There are plenty of people who still approach the morning write up as new information.  I do think my type of fandom is growing, and a significant number of hockey-writing consumers simply don't need the MSM at all for this type of information.

So how does the MSM stay relevant for a growing percentage of their potential audience?

1)  Give us what we can't get anywhere else.

Good case in point was Jim Matheson's piece on how the Justin Shultz contract negotiations are going.

(note, html link stuff not working, will figure it out soon)

Matty has connections inside the Oilers and gives us a view on how the negotiations are going on the Shultz contract and drops the name Subban as a comparable.   Matty also drops a corsi comparison between Shultz and Subban. You *know* that came right from Oilers HQ.

While it's funny that this wasn't a piece in the Journal, but a blog piece on their website, the point still stands.  Matty gave a view into the team that only someone with connections to the team could provide.

This is the cornerstone of the MSM.  Access to the team.

While most of the time MSM writers don't actually do anything with this access, they need to use it more often to provide content that we can't get anywhere else and stay relevant for the fan base.  What's the point of having access if you aren't going to use it?

2) Ask questions of the players and coaches that are relevant.

This one is trickier because I think the MSM needs to increase their knowledge of hockey tactics, specifically which ones the team they cover are employing.

I actually don't have high hopes for this one.  Many of us are on twitter during the games and often a member of the Oilers media will tweet out an opinion on the game which garners 123214 responses saying "what game are you watching?"

Often during the post game presser I'd like a specific tactical question asked and all we get is "tough game eh coach", or "your team got out hit"

The MSM needs to "raise their level of compete" and "get in the corners and grind it out" if they are going to remain relevant to a growing percentage of their audience.

They need to understand the game they cover in a deeper and more technical way because their audience is getting smarter about the sport and more technical, as well.

We know this can be done.  James Mirtle, who is a beat writer for the Leafs is a good example of smart hockey journalism.  Scott Cullen of TSN writes very interesting pieces.  The list is growing longer.

3) The worm turned, get over it.

Often the more combative MSM members (Simmons, Cox etc) would appeal to authority in their fight against the relevance of fancy stats in hockey--  i.e., if this stuff was any good then all NHL teams would be using it.  My favorite moment was Simmons yelling at Tyler Dellow on the radio "so you think you're smarter than 30 NHL GMs!?!?!?!"

Now that there has been highly publicized hirings of some fancy stats compilers and analysts I hope this is just put to bed.

The authorities hired these guys.

Yes Virginia, there are some interesting and relevant things that shot-attempt data can provide.  Let's all move on.

As we saw earlier even an old dog like Matty can drop a corsi comparison into a piece.  Readers want this stuff and if the sports writers come to understand it and become more conversant in it, it will only help them.

So to sum up, I think its shapes up this way for the MSM

1) use your access to inform us of stuff we can't get anywhere else;
2) increase your knowledge of hockey tactics and some fancy stats stuff so you can become the hockey expert that your readers need you to be.

You can't claim to be the "voice of the fans" and then ignore what a growing number of the fans want.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This blog was supposed to be called Woodblog, but someone owns that already

Hello All,

I am creating this blog for when my verbal diarrhea is too much to ask LT to post at

I really wanted to call it Woodblog: A renewable resource, but Woodblog was already taken. (h/t to Rom)


Anyhow, my second choice was Because Oilers.

Not just because it became the correct reasoning to explain why an Actual NHL GM would trade Tom Gilbert, a 1st or 2nd pairing RHD (not available often in the NHL) with offence, for Nick Shultz, 3rd pairing LHD with zero offence (readily available at any time), but because it also described why I started looking at fancy stats in the first place.

Why would v4.2 trade Gilbert for Nultz? Because Oilers.

Why did I start getting interesting in fancystats? Because Oilers.

So here we go.

I have no idea where this will lead.