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Chat: Timo Seppa (Hockey)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday May 27, 2009 5:00 PM ET chat session with Timo Seppa (Hockey).

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With action on the ice heating up and the answer to who's going to hoist the Stanley Cup around the corner, why not cheat and hear from Puck Prospectus' Timo Seppa about what's going on, and what's to come?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Hello again! Time to discuss the Stanley Cup playoffs as well as any other hockey questions you have in mind. Do we have a marquis rematch in store? I think so. I’m also game for whatever else you have in mind – today’s UEFA Champions League final, baseball, American Idol post mortem, you name it.

strupp (Madison): Assuming the worst tonight, what's the ultimate upside for the Blackhawks as they're constructed right now? We have an idea what the upside for Toews, Kane and Sharp are, but what about Burish, Bolland, etc? Are they a better goaltender away from being elite for a few years? Thanks for the time Timo.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): There is a ton of upside for the Blackhawks; this is a team that is “a year early”. Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg have been great in the playoffs and Duncan Keith has been great the last two regular seasons. They just need some tweaks – an additional year experience, a few wise moves with role players, a better goalie. No question that with the right moves that they could win it all next year.

Matt (Canada): Hey Timo, a lot of the focus on the Dallas Stars during the past year was on how much a true #1 defenseman was needed to cement their positions as contenders for the Stanley cup and lead the blue line after Sergei Zubov retires. The terrible season the Stars had did nothing to change fans opinions on this matter, but I was surprised to see that the much maligned D-core of the Stars was actually one of the stronger units in the league according to your power rankings. My question is do you believe that it is worth it for the Stars to invest a serious amount of cash in bringing in a top defenseman either through free agency or a trade when that aspect of their game is already a strong point, or could the money be better spent in other areas?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): My buddy who is a Stars fanatic feels that the do need a strong defensive defenseman, even though our team GVT metric shows the Stars as one of the best defensive teams and even though Stephane Robidas had a very strong year (2nd best stay-at-home defenseman this season with a +7.9 defensive GVT – see my column today). Dallas has offensive defensemen coming through the pipeline – Matt Niskanen already fits that bill to some extent.

What the Stars really need is a real goalie, and the ship probably sailed a while ago on fleecing someone for Marty Turco (-9.3 total GVT) - Too bad Mike Smith is gone. Most of the aging core needs replacement. Mike Ribiero is a nice player, but are you really going to build or rebuild around him?

Frederick (D.C.): Who do you rate as the top five free agents coming onto the market this summer?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I’m leaning on Tom Awad for this one – “The Sedins, Hossa, Bouwmeester, possibly Martin Biron”

Jordan Fine (Toronto): Hey Timo, It's seems certain that we are about to see the first repeat Stanley Cup Final match-up since the NYI-EDM repeat of 1983/84. A LOT of parallels can be drawn between the two: The Detroit Dynasty is not so different from the Isles'. Crosby/Malkin/Fleury are comparable to Gretzky/Kurri/Fuhr. Billy Smith was late in his career much like Chris Osgood. In the 83 cup, The Isles won handily, in four games. You could easily chalk that up to experience. This was their 3rd Cup finals in a row. In 84, the Oil reversed the result. One year older, one full playoff run under their belt, and packed with future HOFers, they sent the Islanders off. One thing that could be argued that is missing from the modern-day equivalent is Moose Messier...there is no parallel on Pittsburgh. Jordan Staal might be the closest thing, but that would be reaching...nobody on Pittsburgh comes close to Mess' leadership abilities. Could that be a reason why Detroit should be the easy favourites? Or is there someone I might be missing. And the Islanders dropped off after losing the cup to Edmonton. They flirted with mediocrity for few seasons before dropping out completely in '88. And beyond their 93 run, they've been rebuilding as far as I can remember, and are still at it. Is Detroit headed for a similar fate if they lose, or have they drafted well enough to keep themselves in the running for awhile to come?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Now, THAT’S a question. Hold on a minute…while…I…read…it…And some folks complained about having to read all of those BP Idol submissions!

I touched on the rematch possibility in today’s column. I’m not sold on all the lauding that Jordan Staal gets. He’s still more Petr Nedved than Mark Messier to me (Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but there is a point to it).

There’s no reason to think that Detroit won’t compete at a high level for a couple of more years-especially – Hello! – if they get a goalie, but I get the feeling that this is Pittsburgh’s year. I liked how hot they were coming down the stretch and they haven’t really cooled off since. I’d love to have the boys run team GVT for the last few weeks of the regular season plus the playoffs and see how Detroit and Pittsburgh stack up. I think it would be close.

rawagman (Toronto): Timo, I think one of the main separators between the good and the elite (at least offensively) is their ability to handle the stick and the puck. Do you agree? How do you go about measuring that ability? Where do we see this reflected best in the stats? Thanks!

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Scouting? Watching the game?

If I had to pick a metric that would get close to approximating it, I would say takeaways and giveaways – assuming a much more liberal definition of takeaways and giveaways than is currently used (How can there be a total of 8 giveaways in last night’s Penguins-Hurricanes game? The puck is constantly taken away by one team from the other!)

Tristan (Canada): I was curious about how you felt about recent performance impacting future performance. I've always felt that for the majority of players, it is likely that if they were hot recently (or cold recently), it's really the larger sample size you should look at to determine future performance (i.e. if a guy has 15 points in last 20 games, but 25 points in 50 games overall, he is more likely a .5 a game player than a .75 point a game player).

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I did a few articles on predicting future performance early on for Puck Prospectus; you can find them in the SOG archive. For the stats that I looked at - Goals, Assists, PIM - you were generally best off in the range of 6-10 weeks worth of data for predictions, which gave a large enough sample size but also captured current variations in the individual's play e.g. hot/cold streaks, injuries, TOI, linemates, etc. You can get away with 3-4 weeks of data or YTD as almost as good an approximation.

Zaki (Ct): Hope you do not mind about answering non-hockey questions Do you think Christiano Ronaldo should stay with Man U during next season? thanks

Timo Seppa (Hockey): **Spoiler, Will!** After today, maybe some folks will be ready to run him out of town, with no goals on 6 shots in the UEFA Champions League Finals loss and playing a bit selfishly (Ronaldo? No!) especially at the start of the match.

Of course, he’s a world class talent at midfield who is probably irreplaceable. I don’t know what he becomes in 5 years or so, when his otherworldly skills start to slowly erode and he’s forced to use that grey matter a bit more –uh oh- but that’s really not the issue now. If Manchester United were to lose him in the offseason –which sounds unlikely- they’d have to look for world class talent elsewhere as well as at midfield – perhaps a top defender.

Frederick (D.C.): It seems that scouting is better now and the top picks from the last few years are producing better and more consistently that in the past. True?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): That may be a bit of a mirage, based on can't miss talents like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane - perhaps we'll soon be adding John Tavares and Victor Hedman to that list, too. Drafting is an inexact science. If you look at recent drafts, you'll find a bunch of first round picks who haven't seen a minute of NHL ice time.

jjoyce37 (Calgary): Is it possible to eventually get to a spot with hockey where statistical insight could lead to better decision making as is done in baseball and seems to be slowly occuring in basketball (Houston Rockets). I'd like to think that better in-game statistical information could lead to better player acquisition and game strategy but wonder how this could be done in such a fluid game? I suspect that the Detroit Redwings might be well ahead of the curve based on roster construction and the way they move the puck.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I’m told that hockey is behind baseball in this regard. Sure, you’d figure that all of these sports could benefit from added statistical insight. It’s bound to happen soon in all of them.

I like to privately call the Red Wings “Team Sweden”, since about a third of them are Swedes. As much as we Finns see them as our rivals (that we rarely get the best of, mind you), you see a lot of smart European style play for Detroit, and you have to give credit to the Swedish core there for that, along with the others that buy into the style.

Mike Rovito (Scotch Plains, NJ): Will Neil be joining the chat at any time?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Thank you, Mike from Left Field.

Neil Peart? Neil Smith? I hope so; I hope not.

Jim (St. Louis): Are you going to have an online listing of your advanced stats such as GVT for all players? It would be nice to reference when I get into debates about how absolutely mediocre Barret Jackman has been the past two seasons when most Blues fans love the guy for being so physical (i.e. punching opponents in the face after the whistle). I'm sick of hearing how admirably he's performed as our #1 defenseman this season when he's been awful. He was also on the ice for 8 of the 10 non-empty net goals against in the playoffs. I was hoping to have some of these stats at my fingertips. Thanks for coming up with some advanced stats for hockey. It's been long overdue.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): That online listing will come eventually, but don't hold your breath on it quite yet. If you haven't checked out Gabe Desjardin's site, www.behindthenet.ca, he has some excellent advanced stats over there.

Regarding your buddy Jackman -btw, nonsequitor, Wolverine wasn't really worth the $10- we've got him at +0.0 offensive GVT, +1.5 defensive GVT, +1.5 total GVT. So he's not much more than AHL-level replacement fodder. And as you allude to -if you look at Gabe's site- he took 23 minors versus drawing 5 at even strength - That cost his team a couple of goals.

Jordan Fine (Toronto): Jordan Staal's regular season production in his first 4 seasons has been disappointing...if you consider that his older brother just happened to pot 45 goals and 100 points in only his second NHL season. I believe Eric also won the cup that year. J Staal's OHL production at age 16 isn't that far off from his brother. Playing for the same team, Eric produced at 1.10 PPG pace for the Petes, while Jordan netted an even 1.00 PPG. Same team. Same Family. Same age. Same Draft position. In his Rookie Year, jordan netted 9 more goals than his brother, nearly a year younger than Eric. So, (and not that there's anything wrong with it; he's obviously quite good at it,) is Jordan doomed to being a shut-down role player, eclipsed by the Crosby/Malkin Tandem, or is there still a chance of seeing the 40 goal-scoring threat his brother seemed to have no problems finding his way into? Especially given he's getting more than his fair share of ice time with the best playmaker in the game?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): As I’ve mentioned to my colleagues internally, a small difference in P/GP can make a big difference, because I don’t think that league equivalencies are linear when you get to a certain point on the curve; when you past to a certain level, the flashing superstar warning lights come on.

I find both Staals enormously streaky, this mainly from the point of view of a frustrated fantasy hockey owner that’s had both of them. Eric had a stretch of a month plus this year where he scored goal(s) in one game. Jordan will score a pile over the course of a couple of games and then disappear. From a fantasy point of view, if you're going to draft them, keep them in your lineup through the droughts, because you'll be upset if you miss the "payoff" weeks.

I believe that Eric is one good player that needs other stars around him to support the same kind of streakiness. Jordan is a third line player, whatever his role.

Guido (Charleston, WV): How much will the Pens defense suffer next year if Rob Scuderi leaves as a free agent (as he almost certainly will)?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): As I covered today, Scuderi was the Penguins best defensive player by a mile, with a +6.4 defensive GVT. Next best were Malkin, Ruslan Fedetenko, and Hal Gill, according to the metric. With the Penguins on the verge of being special for several years to come, I wouldn't mess around with losing a key contributor such as Scuderi. I'd rather keep him than try to replace him with a similar type player that's not proven to mesh yet with the team.

brian (Brooklyn NY): So Det or Pitt?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Pittsburgh, as I said. I think that the many snipers on the Penguins -including Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar in addition to you-know-who and you-know-who- will take advantage of Osgood. It won't help Detroit if there is a significant injury problem with Pavel Datsyuk or Nicklas Lidstrom. Scuderi will sure need to earn his money against the Zetterberg-Franzen-Cleary line that has been unconscious this postseason.

Frederick (D.C.): From a stat perspective, if you are the Isles, would you rather (a) take Tavares; (b) take Hedman; or (c) trade the pick if you can get a quality, proven NHL player already under contract—but not somebody who is in the Sid/Ovie/Malkin/Vinny league…

Timo Seppa (Hockey): As everyone has said, it's hard to go wrong with either Tavares or Hedman. I think that trading the pick would be very hard to make work logistically, although I'm sure that a team like Toronto would try hard to pull it off. Complicating things further is the fact that you can have a young superstar "on the cheap" for the first three years of their contract.

All that said, we believe that the Islanders may take the young Swedish defenseman, Victor Hedman, who is thought to be in the Nicklas Lidstrom mold.

Matt (Canada): Hey Timo, how do you feel that the Capital's loss of Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Michael Nylander will impact the team next year? I know Nylander had a very tough season with injuries, but Kozlov and Fedorov were top line players for the capitals and fixtures on the PP. I don't know if there's many options in the free agency market to replace these players, atleast not at a reasonable price.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Sergei Federov +4.4 total GVT; Viktor Kozlov +1.9 GVT; Michael Nylander +2.3 GVT...and falling. These GVT's are bound to erode even more with even more age. Pretty soon you have empty reputations.

Federov was near the bottom of the league in net penalties. Kozlov in particular is engrained in my mind for pretty much single-handedly blowing one of the games in the Rangers series

This is a dynamic, young team. There are lots of pieces to keep -even Mike Green, despite his showing in the playoffs- but these guys aren't among them.

smitty (chicago): if the blackhawks are to make an upgrade in the net via trade or free agency, who would be the likely candidates?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Trade either Huet or Khabibulin for a useful role player or a solid defensive defenseman. Pick up a better goalie - Their biggest bugaboo this postseason.

twinkies25 (MN): Will the Minnesota Wild keep Marion Gaborik, and if they don't, will the team lose a great player, or a good player with some serious groin problems?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Can I go off the board with this one? I'm glad I'm not the GM. I have a hard time believing that Gaborik will ever be right, but having watched teams like Carolina this offseason just begging for more offensive pop, having a bonafide scorer is nothing to sneeze at. Eek - I'd let him go, I guess, if I were in the GM's shoes. He was a very good player who was very fragile.

Clint (Chicago): I'm a hockey neophyte, but I've been amazed at how much interest there has been here about the Blackhawks during their entire playoff run. Maybe it's just my circle of friends, but people care more about them than I can remember, or at least since they made the finals against Pittsburgh. I know that until last year the team just stunk for a while, but do you think they will continue to hold the city's interest and possibly become as popular as the Bulls (for example)? This seems like their chance to finally become a presence here outside of their core group of diehard fans.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Other than Detroit over the last 10-12 years, there has been a lot of hard luck among the Original Six hockey cities, hasn't there? I wouldn't be surprised if the Blackhawks could get significant interest stirred up in Chicago. Detroit loves it's Red Wings, and I could see a lot of similarity in how the Windy City would take to their team.

The Blackhawks have a dynamic, young core that just needs to be tweaked to be right there with the Penguins and Capitals as a flagship team of the NHL.

Tristan (Canada): Fantasy question - would you consider a player's home/road split in an analysis of PPG? I can't see a home/road split being more than sample size, unless specific arenas are shown to be higher scoring.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I agree that you need to be even more careful of sample size with a stat like Power Play Goals. You can glance at home/road splits to see if you have a rare player who happens to have a really big split for some reason. Arenas shouldn't be a factor in hockey as ballparks are in baseball. I'm much more likely to look at base scoring levels, # games per week, matchups and number of consecutive games (fatigue) than home/road when making fantasy hockey lineup decisions.

Jason (Canada): Timo, did the Wings miss Draper's faceoff and defensive value? They didn't really need it in game 4 but we've had two OTs in this series. A single faceoff can be the turning point in any game.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Kris Draper is a faceoff expert, no doubt. Faceoffs are very important on the power play as I wrote for ESPN Insider (approximately 1 in 15 faceoffs won on the man advantage leads to a goal within 11 seconds), so that would be the key time to get your best man out there. In Draper's case, I'd favor him in the defensive zone versus the offensive zone (where I would take someone almost as good on the faceoff, but with more offensive skill for scoring once you win the faceoff).

The problem is that the Wings give Draper way more ice time than he deserves based on his overall level of play. GVT would indicate that you could find a better player in the AHL and plug him into your lineup (-2.0 offensive GVT, -1.3 defensive GVT, -3.3 total GVT).

The good news for the Wings is that they have several excellent faceoff men. So they don't really need Draper for that. What I will say is that Crosby is very good on faceoffs, so that winning defensive zone faceoffs against him on the PK in the finals will be key.

Matt (Canada): May I inquire what team you cheer for? It seems like for a Finn Dallas should be the natural choice, Jere Lehtinen is like a god to you guys right? :)

Timo Seppa (Hockey): When I lived in Western NY as a kid, it was the Sabres and Jim Schoenfeld. Since the 1980's, it's been the Rangers for me - Reijo Ruotsalainen was a proto-Brian Leetch for a few seasons for the Blue Shirts. Seeing Messier's hat trick against the Devils in Game 6 during the Cup run was my biggest hockey thrill. Alex Kovalev was my favorite Ranger of that team. I've also rooted for the Clarkson University Golden Knights and HIFK. And I'll admit, I pulled for Lehtinen and the Stars in 1998.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Thanks to everyone for all the great questions. See you again soon!


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