HALL VS SEGUIN VS SKINNER: THE STUPIDEST NHL DEBATE OF THE LAST TWO YEARS (PART 2)

Jeff Skinner Kitchener Rangers OHL

Photo by Tabercil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So, we left off last time with the Edmonton Oilers having just drafted Taylor Hall first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, following months of intense speculation, online debates, and some just plain ugly arguments over whether it should be him or fellow OHL star player Tyler Seguin.  The main debate centred on whether the Oilers should take the dynamic winger with a long history of dominating the competition who was basically guaranteed to be an NHL star, or the slick centre who had a rapid rise to prominence and didn’t come with the same guarantees, but could potentially – yet not as soon – turn into the better player.  In my mind, then and now, they couldn’t really have gone wrong.  At the time I was leaning towards Hall, as he had a longer track record and was the safe pick, I preferred his personality and enjoyed his reckless style, despite the risk of injury.  Yet I would have been just as happy gaining a potential franchise centre in Seguin.

It was clear from Day 1 that these two players were going to end up being compared and contrasted every day for the rest of their professional careers, forever linked by an intense debate created by the media in the Winter of 2009.

Many people, I have noticed, have still not gotten over the fact that Hall was picked over Seguin.  They make ridiculous arguments about who is the better player – almost always at the expense of the other player being labelled a bust, or crap, or whatever derogatory term they can think of – without stopping to think of the possibility that perhaps, just maybe, both of these players are absolutely fantastic young players with brilliant futures.  Why is that so difficult?



Maybe it’s due to the nature of fandom, the fact that we sports fans  – not too differently from music fans or political supporters – have grown up loving and enjoying the product of one particular entity over all others in the same form.  Often this is due to nurture, for instance growing up in Edmonton around Edmonton Oilers fans or in a family where your parents are Montreal Canadiens supporters, you are probably more likely – at least in your early years – to be a supporter of that team; kind of like how a child imitates his elders.  Sometimes it may be due to nature, and the fact that some people are just inherently drawn to a team and their style of play because it perhaps subconsciously mirrors a part of their personality.  I really don’t know, I might be talking complete and utter bollocks, but I am trying to understand the mentality behind a significant proportion of fans who are almost blinded by the love for their own team, with all other players to be considered inferior in every way; to admit otherwise seems to be seen as admitting you are not a loyal supporter – like how Hitler’s Generals were often afraid to question their Führer despite their concerns and beliefs that the Allies were more formidable than first thought, yet were too afraid to voice those concerns for fear of demotion, imprisonment or execution.  An obscure (but hopefully not too tasteless!) reference, perhaps, but for me at least it rings true for many of the comments I have seen posted on blogs and news items.  It might be a vocal minority, it might not be.

Call it the Maple Leafs Complex, if you will.  I jest, but only just.  There is a belief out there, and I have to admit to thinking it myself now and again, that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, without a doubt the most popular franchise in Canada in terms of overall fanbase despite being pretty awful for nearly a decade now, are amongst the most annoying, naive, and ignorant fans there are.  Frequent over-rating of their own players is the norm, whilst belittlement of all others is commonplace.  Fans stating they don’t care that they missed out on drafting Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton because they got Phil Kessel – Kessel is brilliant at what he does, scoring goals, but doesn’t bring a lot else and to be honest acquiring him was just Burke trying to avoid going the rebuild route; if it was me, I’d have kept the picks and drafted two potential franchise corner stones each with a wider range of skills than Kessel.  But that’s just me.  So yes, people constantly joke that Toronto fans believe the Maple Leafs to be “the centre of the hockey universe”.  And yet is it really all that different to other teams?  Go to the blogs and message boards of any team and you’ll find extremely similar statements being made about their own teams in relation to all others.  As fans we do tend to over-rate our own team, partly because we feel we know them better than anyone else, and partly I expect because there is often a degree of being in denial when it comes to a teams shortcomings, almost an innocent-yet-naive positivity – “this year is the year”.

Enlightenment

I am of the belief that if you so blindly follow one thing, be it a sports team, a sport as a whole, a band, a genre of music, etc., then you are shutting yourself off from becoming truly… enlightened, for want of a less-spiritual term, about the world as a whole.  For example, when I was 15 my Dad first introduced me to Pink Floyd.  I fell in love with their music instantly, and whilst I was already very much into music (and had already been playing other instruments since a young age), listening to David Gilmour playing the solo in Comfortably Numb was an absolute revelation for me in terms of discovering there was something beyond the stuff that was just played on MTV and Top Of The Pops, etc.  Classic rock (air guitar baby!) became a bit of an obsession for me for a few years.  And yet I never let it blind me to the fact that there were other people out there worth listening to, old and new.  I’ve always said that I’m the sort of person who, if I like a song, I will listen to that song.  I don’t care if it’s Led Zeppelin or Lady Gaga or AC/DC or David Guetta.  All are completely different and I freakin’ love it.  When the world has such a variety of things to discover, and so easily especially nowadays, I would rather not be the sort of person to dismiss out of hand a new thing that comes along and challenges me.  I took up guitar because of Pink Floyd (and Joe Satriani, naturally), yet played saxophone – and later guitar – in jazz and big bands for years.  Whilst jazz and funk and and blues and rock remain my favourites, I still have plenty of Irish trad, pop, metal, dance, classical, punk, and so on, to fill out my iPod.  I’m certainly not saying that everyone MUST like something other than what they know already, but I just get the impression that people don’t even try to like something else.


One of my friends is a hardcore punk fan, lives that lifestyle and sticks her finger up at “the man”, and yet she knows the lyrics to all of Will Smith’s tracks, ever.  Some people might call her a “sell out” and not adhering to the lifestyle she took to;  I prefer to see it as someone who hasn’t closed themselves off despite having a favourite.  Have a favourite, by all means, there is nothing wrong with that, but don’t ignore the contributions and positives that others have to offer.

Same goes for sports.  I am an obsessed Oilers fan, but I can clearly see that the Vancouver Canucks are a Stanley Cup contender, and I can clearly see that the fact the Oilers have 5 Cup wins to the Canucks zero is not a valid argument when it comes to who is the better team.  I can see that Sidney Crosby is one of, if not the best player in the world, no matter his perceived attitude issues.  I can see that Toronto is currently a better team than the Oilers, even if I believe the Oilers will get a Cup before them, but that’s just my belief – not a definitive statement of truth as there is no way I can predict that, although many people on TSN’s comments section seem to be able to.

One thing that really grinds my gears (thanks Peter) is when people say “so-and-so sucks, he shouldn’t even be in the NHL, he can’t play hockey”.  Uh, no, I can guarantee you he is a very, very good hockey player and if he wasn’t he wouldn’t have been entrusted with playing 20 minutes a night on average for the past 5 seasons by three different head coaches (ahemShawnHorcoffahem).  As I have mentioned before, just because a guy isn’t an elite NHL player, doesn’t mean he is bad at hockey.  How many guys play in your local league, either on your team or against you, who are really skilled and everyone says how good he is?  Just because a guy isn’t in the NHL, doesn’t mean he isn’t a good hockey player, it just means they’re not among the top 700-800 in the world.  Perhaps enforcers, along the lines of Steve MacIntyre or Colton Orr, can be designated as nothing more than fists-on-skates at the pro level, but even a lot of them demonstrated a reasonable amount of hockey ability at some point.

And finally, I can recognise that Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner are both talents to be just as highly valued as Taylor Hall.

I get that a lot of these comments may just be trying to wind people up, or “trolling”, but I get the distinct idea that just as many of these comments are genuine, and so I want to try and show the truth behind the many statements made in comments sections and blogs, with regards to the triumvirate of picks from the top of the 2010 draft.

Please forgive the long introduction, but I feel I may not have provided quite the background on what this series of posts was/is trying to achieve in Part 1.  Back to the hockey.

Jeff Skinner – The Figure Skater From Outer-Nowhere

Jeff Skinner NHL Carolina Hurricanes

Photo by Michael Miller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Heading into the 2010 Draft, Jeff Skinner was earning himself a great reputation.  Halfway through the year, and even as late as March, many thought he’d be one of the first picks taken on the secondday of the draft, or maybe a later first rounder, but certainly was not in the conversation amongst the Top 10 prospects.  Skinner was seen as a good player, but one of the reasons he attracted attention was due to the fact that when he was younger, he was one of the top young figure skaters in the country.  A pretty interesting story for a guy now vying to make it in one of the toughest pro sports in the world.  However, by season’s end he was the leading goal scorer amongst draft eligible players in the entire CHL, putting away 50 goals and 90 points for the Kitchener Rangers.  Then the playoffs began.  Skinner set the league alight by scoring 20 goals in 20 games, plus 13 assists.  Incredible output for any player, let alone a player not many had paid a lot of attention to.  Skinner had suddenly put himself in the conversation with the other top picks, although his career so far was not nearly as celebrated as the two battling for the distinction of 1st Overall Pick.

Come draft day, Hall and Seguin had just been draft 1st and 2nd Overall respectively, followed by Erik Gudbranson (Florida), Ryan Johansen (Columbus), Nino Niederreiter (NY Islanders), and Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay).  The Carolina Hurricanes stepped up at No.7 and, despite his improved rankings, surprised everybody by taking Skinner.  Several highly touted players were left on the board, such as Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, Mikael Granlund, and Vladimir Tarasenko.  There were some concerns about Skinners size and his skating ability (despite being a former figure skater, he was a smooth skater but not particularly), but there was clearly no doubting his scoring ability.

It was expected by most that Skinner would attend the Canes’ training camp that fall but ultimately would be sent back to junior to work on his flaws.  That didn’t happen.  Skinner was outstanding at training camp and in the preseason games, signed a contract with the Hurricanes, and was placed on the opening roster.  That still didn’t mean he had made the NHL however.  He still had to last the 9 regular season games before his contract would actually kick in – and if he didn’t look like he belonged, he would be sent back to junior.  Again, that didn’t happen.  He scored 3 goals and 7 points in his first 9 games, and stuck for the season.

Skinner ultimately blew everyone away that year, winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and putting away 31 goals and 63 points, whilst also being the youngest player ever named to the mid-season All-Star game, as a replacement for the injured Sidney Crosby.  He left Hall and Seguin in his wake, and thus entered the Hall vs Seguin debate.

Hall and Seguin – Draft +1

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Alesiaxx (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There wasn’t really any doubt that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin weren’t going to stick with their respective teams throughout the year; the top picks in the draft usually do.  They were both physically and mentally mature, and you could argue they had nothing more to learn by ripping up junior competition.  There was a belief amongst advanced stats bloggers that the team would be best served by sending Hall back to junior; this was due to the fact that doing so would delay the start of his entry-level contract by at least a year, hence delaying the age at which he reached restricted free agency and, with the assumption that Hall would be a better, stronger player in a year’s time, he would be better value when he eventually did get to the NHL, especially since it was basically guaranteed the Oilers would be awful for at least another year.  They had a point, but at the same point nobody really believed he was going to get sent back.

It was widely accepted however, that Hall’s and Seguin’s experiences on their relative teams would be wildly different.  The Boston Bruins were looking to challenge for the Stanley Cup.  They had an incredibly strong team with a Norris-calibre defenceman, a Vezina-calibre goalie, and several good – though not elite – scoring options.  There was no way Seguin was going to be given massive playing time, as winning games would be more important than giving ice time to a rookie so he could pad his stats, although playing on a good team would provide him with some opportunity.  With Hall, the Oilers were a simply awful team.  They had no depth, the defence was a mess and constantly injured, they had an injury-prone goalie on his last legs (and still do…), and the forwards were just not that talented, although recent drafts had restocked the cupboards somewhat, with Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi well on the way.  As such, everybody knew that Taylor Hall would receive prime opportunities to put up big numbers, although being on a bad team would provide it’s share of lows.

And that’s pretty much exactly how it played out.  Hall was very good, though not dominant, putting up over 20 goals and 40 points in an injury shortened season.  Seguin had a tougher time, putting up only 11 goals and 22 points in limited ice time, although he did perform well when called upon in the playoffs, showing off the talent that had gotten him drafted so high.  Neither of them really came close to Jeff Skinner’s performance, at least in terms of scoring.

2010-11: By The Numbers

Here is the breakdown of each players’ rookie season (Yellow Cells indicate the player with the best result, Red the worst – and yes I realise the +/- row is wrong):

hall seguin skinner stats

  • As we can see, Skinner was the runaway winner in these particular stats, Seguin clearly the worst, though not by a huge margin in the cases of the underlying numbers.
  • For those wondering, for any stat that is “per 60 minutes” – this has been adopted by the advanced stats community because it is deemed to be more indicative of actual ability when comparing two separate individuals.  Because hockey players don’t play a full game, like football (soccer) or rugby, but rather operate on shifts that are generally about 30-50 seconds long and playing anywhere between 1 minute to 35 minutes a game in total depending on a range of factors (ability, responsibility, penalties, injuries, etc.) it is not really fair to judge things on a “per game” basis.  Simply put, on a points per game basis, Seguin looks awful, posting less than half as many points as Hall and Skinner.  But when you see that he played 5 minutes less per game than those two at even strength, which is significant in hockey, then when we express how many points he scored relative to his ice time (i.e. points per 60), he really isn’t all that far off Hall and Skinner.  So, the “per 60” method basically eliminates a lot of the “skewing” that ice time can have on traditional stats.
  • If Hall would have played the full season, he would likely have been closer to scoring 28 goals and 53 points, which is precisely in line with former high picks in their rookie years, such as John Tavares and Matt Duchene, and a lot closer to Jeff Skinner.
  • Hall played the most minutes of the 3 players at even strength, significantly more than Seguin but barely more than Skinner.  However Skinner made the most of his 5v5 ice time, scoring at a significantly better per 60 rate in both goals and points.
  • Hall was the best goal scorer by quite a margin on the powerplay, but Skinner had the best overall points per 60 at 5v4.  This may have been due to Skinner having more talented team-mates to pass to, with Carolina being a slightly better team on the powerplay that year, whilst for Hall, the powerplay basically ran through him – he was the goal scorer.
  • In tandem with that, Seguin did receive reasonable powerplay time, but not nearly as much as Hall and Skinner.  However, he didn’t do much with the time he was getting (see his 5v4 points per 60), despite being on a team that had a better powerplay than both the other two.
  • Seguin’s minus 3 is pretty respectable considering he was playing with lower-level linemates, but then Boston was a very good team and their defence would have helped out a lot with that.  Very good nonetheless.  Hall’s -9 is pretty bad but when you consider the team he was playing on was a -69 team, that really isn’t that unexpected, particularly for an offense first player.  Skinner’s +3 is very good for a first year offensive player, but his team was only -3 so he was in the right range.
  • Relative Corsi is a shot-tracking metric.  Basically, Corsi is a form of the plus-minus stat but instead of being a goals for/goals against differential, it is a shots for/shots against differential – this includes all shots, including missed shots and blocked shots – for each player, and Relative Corsi is that stat adjusted for how the team performed when said-player was not on the ice.  It is a much better indicator of how a player is performing than his team, as a team taking more shots is likely to be spending more time in the opposition zone than their own, and hence likely has more possession.  It is not a perfect stat, but it does give a good idea of how well players are pushing the play in the right direction – i.e. towards the opposition goal.  Hall quite clearly is a monster at this, a puck-possession powerhouse.  Basically, when he is on the ice, the play immediately goes in favour of the Oilers as he is so adept at driving the play.  If a team is getting more shots, they are likely creating more scoring chances, and more scoring chances should result in more goals.  Seguin struggled, but then he was playing with below-average team-mates by most accounts, and Skinner was good on an average team.
  • Quality of Competition is another important stat, and this one is judging the competition according to each players’ Corsi Rel.  Basically, players with a higher Corsi Rel are being judged in this case as better players than ones with a lower Corsi Rel, as they push the play in the right direction more, so the higher the QoC number, the better the level of competition the player in question is playing against.  Hall was playing against the best competition of the 3, probably in part because he was so effective at driving the play.  He was still facing relatively easy competition though.  Seguin faced by far the easiest competition.
  • Zonestarts are great for seeing how a player was used.  Defensive stalwarts like Manny Malhotra are going to be far more trusted by coaches to win faceoffs and prevent the other team from scoring than a player like Henrik Sedin, and so will get used in the defensive zone a lot more.  To express this, zonestarts are a simple percentage of how many times a player began in the offensive zone.  All three guys are very similar here, getting a slight offensive zone start push from their coaches, which isn’t surprising given that they are young rookies and all offensive players, but they aren’t being given a mega-push.  Hall has the best of the lot, but it’s such a small difference it’s negligible.
  • Skinner saw more penalty kill time than the other two by a fair margin, but 13 seconds a game is still next to nothing so for all 3, penalty killing just wasn’t on the menu.
  • I chose to show the penalty stats as it is a very interesting take on an underrated part of the game.  The ability to draw a penalty is a valuable skill, and one particularly held by the faster skaters in the league as they tend to force slower players to have to try to cheat (clutch and grab and hook) to take them down.  Despite not being a particularly fast skater though, Jeff Skinner posted impressive stats, as he drew 2.6 penalties for every 60 minutes on the ice.  Hall wasn’t far behind at just over 2, but Seguin was lagging behind slightly, not drawing even 1 penalty for every hour of ice time.
  • Just as valuable is the skill of not taking a penalty.  All three of these kids were fairly disciplined, not one of them taking so much as 1 penalty for every hour they were on the ice.  Hall was the best at only 0.6, but again the difference is negligible.
  • One point that isn’t shown by the table:  Skinner had a pretty high shooting percentage, at 14.4%.  This is significantly above NHL average, and as I have mentioned countless times we need to see several seasons of a percentage in a similar range to be able to declare that his true shooting ability.  This past season he dropped to 9.5%, below average for a forward.  Four possibilities exist: he was lucky in 10-11 and that’s not his true ability; he was unlucky in 2011-12 and his rookie year represents his true ability; his true ability is somewhere in between; or we haven’t seen enough yet to determine what his true level is.  I know which answer I’m going with.

Conclusion: Skinner Rocked

It is fairly safe to say that Skinner was the out-and-out winner in 2010-11, and well deserving of the Calder Trophy.  All three of them had good points and not so good points, that cannot be disputed.  To summarise:

  • As many have pointed out, Seguin wasn’t given much of a chance to do what the other two did, with poorer linemates and less icetime.
  • However, Hall and Skinner did so much more with the ice time they did get, so even with ice time factored in, Seguin was inferior and perhaps just didn’t adjust to the league quite as quickly.  He was far closer to the other two at even strength than it appears at first glance, though, and 5v5 play is the most important aspect of hockey.
  • Many have pointed out that of course Hall should get better numbers than Seguin as he was the best player on a bad team.  I don’t think that should be a bad thing necessarily; for an 18 year old to come in to the best league in the world and play as well as he did without the benefit of good players around him is an accomplishment in itself.  It’s a good thing he took control like that.
  • On this point, Skinner perhaps had the best of both worlds: he was on a far worse team than Seguin, so was afforded more opportunity to do his thing, but he was on a far better team than the Oilers, so had the benefit of better players (such as Eric Staal) to assist him.  It’s great that he took advantage in the way he did.

In Part 3: Hall and Seguin and Skinner’s Draft +2 Seasons

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