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Joe Sakic: impact on Colorado's record

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01-28-2011, 03:39 PM
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Hockey Outsider
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Joe Sakic: impact on Colorado's record

Introduction

Over the past few months I've noticed several people state that (despite his reputation as an elite two-way player), Joe Sakic actually wasn't very important to the Colorado Avalanche. Some have even stated that the Avalanche had an equally good record in games where Sakic played, compared to games where he didn't.

If that claim is true, that should cause us to seriously consider if Sakic was actually an excellent two-way forward. I've never seen anybody use specific, detailed data to back up this claim. Intuitively, this claim seems so wrong that I had to investigate it myself.


Time Period

Between 1993-94 and 2006-07, Sakic missed at most one game in eight of those thirteen seasons. Thankfully (in the sense that we have a consistent set of data to analyze), four of Sakic's injury-plagued seasons occured consecutively. This gives us a decent sample size, as Sakic missed close to season's worth of games (66) between the 1996-97 and 1999-00 seasons. The Avalanche roster remained fairly consistent during that period.


Data - Sakic's prime

The table below shows Colorado's record when Sakic played during each of those four seasons. Since we know the team's overall record, we can then calculate the team's record without Sakic. The links to the data sources are below, so anybody can verify or re-calculate my data.

WITH SAKIC TEAM RECORD WITHOUT SAKIC
Season Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage
1996-97 65 38 20 7 63.8% 82 49 24 9 65.2% 17 11 4 2 70.6%
1997-98 64 31 16 17 61.7% 82 39 26 17 57.9% 18 8 10 0 44.4%
1998-99 73 41 23 9 62.3% 82 44 28 10 59.8% 9 3 5 1 38.9%
1999-00 60 33 19 8 61.7% 82 42 28 12 58.5% 22 9 9 4 50%
TOTAL 262 143 78 41 62.4% 328 174 106 48 60.4% 66 31 28 7 52.3%

Based on the above data, between 1996-97 and 1999-00, Sakic had a significant, positive impact on Colorado's ability to win games. The Avalanche won 62.4% of the games where Sakic played, compared to 52.3% of the games where he didn't.

To translate this into something more concrete, the Avalance played at a 102-point pace when Sakic played, and an 86-point pace when he didn't. During those four years, an 102 point team would have finished 2nd, 3rd, 3rd and T-3rd in the Western Conference. An 86 point team would have finished 4th, 6th, 6th and 9th. That's the difference between a perrenial division champion (which the Avalanche were) and a weak playoff team.

Some have actually used the fact that Sakic played on a good team as an argument against him. The data shows that, when Sakic didn't play, the Avalanche were above-average, but not great. (I think that makes sense - they had Roy, but he was inconsistent during the regular season during the late 1990s. Foote was their best defenseman and while he was excellent defensively, he contributed very little offensively. Forsberg was great when he played but was often injured).

I'm not saying that the 10% increase in win percentage is solely due to Sakic. I'm sure there are a number of factors that could influence this number (i.e. contributions of other players on the team, home vs road games, strength of opponents, etc). Still, this evidence, IMO, completely refutes the claim that the Avalanche were just as good without Sakic.


Data - Sakic's other years

The following tables show the other years where Sakic missed significant time due to injury.

WITH SAKIC TEAM RECORD WITHOUT SAKIC
Season Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage
1991-92 69 19 40 10 34.8% 80 20 48 12 32.5% 11 1 8 2 18.2%

The 1991-92 Nordiques were a bad team with Sakic (on pace for 57 points) but were one the very worst teams in history without him (on pace for 30 points). Sakic was a difference-maker even very early in his career.

WITH SAKIC TEAM RECORD WITHOUT SAKIC
Season Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage
2002-03 58 24 23 11 50.9% 82 42 27 13 59.1% 24 18 4 2 79.2%

The 2002-03 Avalanche were actually much better without Sakic (83 point pace with vs. 130 point pace without). Sakic had a bad season (by his standards) in 2002-03 but I don't think anbody would argue that he was a liability on the ice (he certainly wasn't bad enough to cost his team 50 points in the standings). Is this simply a fluky product of small sample sizes?

Another potential explanation is that 2002-03 was, without question, Forsberg's best season. Presumably losing Sakic allowed Forsberg, at his absolute best, to play more. This isn't an argument against Sakic - all I'm saying is that Forsberg, during clearly his best season, is better than Sakic during his 15th (?) best season. It's not a meaningful comparison.

WITH SAKIC TEAM RECORD WITHOUT SAKIC
Season Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage Games Win Loss Tie Percentage
2007-08 44 26 18 0 59.1% 82 44 31 7 57.9% 38 18 13 7 56.6%

The 2007-08 Avalanche were only a bit worst without Sakic (97 point pace with vs. 93 point pace without). This isn't a stunning performance, but it's certainly not bad for a 38-year-old.


Conclusion

During his prime, Sakic was very clearly a difference-maker to the Avalanche. He significantly increased their ability to win hockey games.


Links to Data

Colorado's team records: hockey-reference.com

Sakic's game log, 1997 season: Link

Sakic's game log, 1998 season: Link

Sakic's game log, 1999 season: Link

Sakic's game log, 2000 season: Link


Last edited by Hockey Outsider: 01-28-2011 at 03:45 PM.
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01-28-2011, 03:43 PM
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pirate94
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yeah looks like they had far more consistency with him.
Great team leader and 2 way player, he put up great points and was so much fun to watch all the way through his career.
Was awesome that he could help elevate the play of his teammates the way he did.

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01-28-2011, 05:20 PM
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overpass
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I know I've run the numbers on this before, and found that Colorado's record was almost identical in games Sakic played and games Sakic missed. Czech Your Math has also posted those numbers recently. So the simple version of that claim is correct - Colorado won as much without Sakic as they did with him.

It is obviously wrong to take that a step further and say that Sakic didn't help his teams win. There's a lot of variation that's not accounted for in the basic win-loss numbers.

You mentioned 2002-03 as an outlier. I ran the numbers for Peter Forsberg once in the games Sakic missed, although I don't have them available. IIRC he scored about 2 points per game in that stretch. It's not clear what that has to do with Sakic missing time. It's not plausible that Sakic was a net negative during that season - variation from other sources like Forsberg was almost certainly driving things.

On the other hand, I don't think you can cherry-pick Sakic's other seasons and call those numbers the real effect. With so much variation in the numbers, if you look at the results and cherry pick the best numbers you're probably selecting for luck as much as skill.

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01-28-2011, 08:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pirate94 View Post
Great team leader and 2 way player, he put up great points and was so much fun to watch all the way through his career.
Although Sakic had a reputation of being somewhat invisible/non-exciting to an avarage fan - until he suddenly seemed to came out of the blue and made some spectacular game winning move. (IIRC Brett Hull had a similar reputation in this regard.)

In other words Sakic's playing style was not as flashy or crowd pleasing as Peter Forsbergs and that may explain why some diss the Joe.

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01-28-2011, 09:46 PM
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Wow a good player helps a team win what a surprise

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01-28-2011, 10:02 PM
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Overpass, that's a fair comment. The reason I broke it up the way I did is because Sakic had four consecutive seasons where he struggled with injuries, while in his prime. I excluded the other seasons from the total because they were either before or after Sakic's prime.

I still included 1996-97 in my main analysis, even though Colorado actually had a better recorded when Sakic was not playing. I'm sure this was due to random chance and/or small sample sizes (as opposed to Sakic being a negative contributor to the team) - but I still counted it against Sakic. It's the only fair thing to do.

If the Avalanche did indeed have the same record when Sakic was out of the line-up, it would appear that this was entirely due to the 2002-03 season. Every other year (before, during and even, to a lesser extent, after his prime), Sakic made significant contributions to his team's ability to win games. It's misleading to say that Sakic did not contribute to his teams winning (and to be clear, I realize that you and CYM are not saying that) when he clearly had a huge impact, as evidenced in six of the seven years when he was injured. Perhaps 2002-03 was either a big fluke, or a really terrible year for Sakic, that drags down the average so much that it obscures the large, positive impact #19 had the other six years?

====

I think I found the random factor that's obscuring 2002-03.

Roy when Sakic was injured: 94.0% save percentage, 1.73 GAA, 27.5 shots against per 60 minutes
Roy when Sakic played: 91.1% save percentage, 2.37 GAA, 26.8 shots against per 60 minutes

In 2002-03, Roy played ridiculously well when Sakic was injured. We all know that Roy is an incredible competitor, perhaps he wanted to step up one last time during his final season? Anyway, in 2002-03 we're not really comparing "Colorado with Sakic" to "Colorado without Sakic". We're really comparing "Colorado with Sakic, and Roy turning in a slightly above average performance" to "Colorado without Sakic, but with Roy playing even better than Hasek at his absolute peak" -- not a fair comparison.

All it takes is a ridiculous hot streak from (IMO) the second best goalie in history, and the team's record with Sakic gets horribly skewed.

====

I haven't looked at this comprehensively (so I don't say this as if it's a fact), but generally it looks to me like Forsberg's production went up whenever Sakic didn't play. Similarly, Sakic's production went up whenever Forsberg didn't play. The most likely explanation is that there's only so much ice time to go around - when Sakic was injured, Forsberg spent even more time on the powerplay and in critical scoring situations - and the same is true when Forsberg was injured.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Swartzwelder View Post
Wow a good player helps a team win what a surprise
This is a perfect example of statistics supporting first-hand observation. I only bothered doing the research because a number of people have claimed the opposite.


Last edited by Hockey Outsider: 01-28-2011 at 10:42 PM.
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01-28-2011, 11:00 PM
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That's a really good point about Roy, Outsider, and I wonder if Corsi numbers would do this study better justice. Wins are the ultimate goal, but ultimately counting games and wins is counting something that happens much less often than actual goals. Looking at the team's goal differential with and without would probably tell a better story. In the same respect, goals happen very infrequently compared to shots. The team that carries the play generally outshoots the opponent; which means they give themselves a better chance of winning, but a better chance doesn't always mean they do. This is why Corsi numbers have become popular. Using SOG as a measure of performance helps to avoid counting statistical measures that occur with such low frequencies that a few random occurences more or less than "expected" can skew your results one way or the other.

It would be cool if you could do this, not sure how easy it would be, but since you posted Roy's shots against stats, I thought maybe you'd have this fairly accessible. So far it supports what I'm saying. The Avs won more, but maybe they shouldn't have and did anyway - after all, they allowed more shots per game; if they also took fewer, yet still won, it would appear that they simply got fortunate to win more without Sakic that season.

I'm bad at explaining stats in layman's terms, and I know you probably know this stuff already, I was trying to explain to everyone else but it was probably terrible.

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01-28-2011, 11:36 PM
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Yes, I have that information, at least for 2002-03. I haven't done much work with Corsi, but I think it's a good system for analysis. The following simply compares shots for and shots against - I don't have enough data to take into account ES/PP/SH situations, missed/blocked shots, etc.

Shots for

With Sakic: 29.9 shots per game
Without Sakic: 27.0 shots per game

The Avalanche shoot about 10% less when Sakic didn't play. This makes sense; Sakic was one of the league's best scorers and we'd expect the Avalanche to generate fewer shots on goal without him.

Shots against

With Sakic: 27.6 shots against per game
Without Sakic: 30.1 shots against per game

The Avalance allowed about 10% more shots per game when Sakic didn't play. This also makes sense; Sakic was a very good defensive forward and we'd expect the Avalanche to be less effective at shutting down opponents without him.

Shot ratio

With Sakic: Colorado takes 1.08 shots for every opponent shot
Without Sakic: Colorad takes 0.90 shots for every opponent shot

This is a very telling statistic. Colorado performed significantly better - both in the offensive and defensive zone - during the games where Sakic played. So why did Colorado have a superior record when Sakic didn't play? As indicated in my previous post, Roy really stepped up, playing some of the best hockey of his career. Excluding the goalie, the Avalanche were clearly weaker without Sakic, even in 2002-03.

====

Sadly, Sakic seems to be underrated by a lot of fans because he (like Lidstrom, Larionov and Gretzky) was a very subtle, non-flashy player. He performed at a very high level with quiet, almost boring efficiency. This doesn't translate well into YouTube highlight videos, but those who actually watched him play know that he was a game-breaker[*].

To me, being a "dominant" player doesn't necessarily have to throw huge hits in the defensive zone -- he can kill penalties primarily due to smart positioning and effective poke-checking. These things don't show up on YouTube vidoes, but they exist. Similarly, a dominant offensive player doesn't have to hold on to the puck for an entire shift while being repeatedly hooked and slashed -- he can be just as dominant by appearing, like a phantom, at the top of the circle and releasing a bullet wrist shot to the top corner. Again, it doesn't make for a good YouTube video, but it gets the job done.

[*] I strongly suspect that, for the same reasons, Lidstrom will become massively underrated within a few years of retiring. In fact, I'd bet that it would be much easier to put together a YouTube highlight video for Pronger or even Chara, than Lidstrom. Of course, Lidstrom is the better player by a wide margin, but like Sakic, his style doesn't translate well into short clips. You really have to watch him (or at least read about him) to appreciate his greatness. You see Gretzky getting criticized for the same reason - his vision, anticipation and hockey sense don't translate well into 10-second YouTube clips, you really need to watch him, in the context of an entire game unfolding, to appreciate how much smarter he was than everybody.


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01-29-2011, 12:32 AM
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I know it's a lot of work, but do you have the resources to do an on-ice/off-ice analysis? Feel free to decline, of course.

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01-29-2011, 01:44 AM
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Unfortunately your numbers don't mean much. If a team loses their top center for a few games they are probably going to replace him with a temporary call up from the AHL. Of course the AHL call up is not usually going to do as well as the NHL regular.

To determine how valuable someone is you need consider who their replacement is. Assume for example that Crosby retired from the Penguins. The Penguins wouldn't use his $8.7 million cap hit to sign an AHL replacement, they would try to find the best replacement player, someone like Stamkos, Datsyuk or Backstrom. Only once that replacement was signed could you determine whether the team was better or worse of for it.

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01-29-2011, 03:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steve141 View Post
Unfortunately your numbers don't mean much. If a team loses their top center for a few games they are probably going to replace him with a temporary call up from the AHL. Of course the AHL call up is not usually going to do as well as the NHL regular.

To determine how valuable someone is you need consider who their replacement is. Assume for example that Crosby retired from the Penguins. The Penguins wouldn't use his $8.7 million cap hit to sign an AHL replacement, they would try to find the best replacement player, someone like Stamkos, Datsyuk or Backstrom. Only once that replacement was signed could you determine whether the team was better or worse of for it.
I'll let HO field this one... this should be good.

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01-29-2011, 05:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Swartzwelder View Post
Wow a good player helps a team win what a surprise
If you want to be an *******, then I'd suggest going over to the General NHL board and doing so.

We act a little more "mature" here

TIA

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01-29-2011, 09:31 AM
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I really like these kinds of studies. Often times you'll have people come by and talk about how statistics mean absolutely nothing, but this is a case where the stats clearly back up what we all saw. Thanks for the read HO, interesting stuff.

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01-29-2011, 11:17 AM
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I've never really thought of Sakic as a non flashy subtle player like Lidstrom, Gretzky, or Larionov. He's somewhere in between them and a flashy guy, because I'm not going to lie his speed and wrist shot are pretty flashy and on display quite often in games of his. His stickhandling and puck control is actually quite noticable to me as well...

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01-29-2011, 12:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hockey Outsider View Post
Over the past few months I've noticed several people state that (despite his reputation as an elite two-way player), Joe Sakic actually wasn't very important to the Colorado Avalanche.
Really?

Were any of those people alive in the 90s and this past decade?

Did they possess a television, eyesight and a basic understanding of the game of hockey?

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01-29-2011, 07:16 PM
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Good work showing Roy's numbers and the shot numbers in 2002-03.

Here are Forsberg's numbers when Sakic was injured. In 20 games played:

10 G, 28 A, 38 P, +25

Edit: Got the numbers wrong the first time, apparently I forgot how to count. But yeah, that was a good reason to give Forsberg the Hart trophy. Talk about stepping up.


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01-29-2011, 07:22 PM
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Good work showing Roy's numbers and the shot numbers in 2002-03.

Here are Forsberg's numbers when Sakic was injured. In 20 games played:

10 G, 29 A, 39 P, +24
Yikes.

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01-29-2011, 08:20 PM
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Does what he did in the playoffs count, too?

I mean:

1) The game goes into overtime

2) Sakic steps on the ice

3) The game ends, Colorado wins!

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01-30-2011, 01:12 PM
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Originally Posted by seventieslord View Post
I'll let HO field this one... this should be good.
Please expand.

I am of the opinion that you can't really meassure how great a player is by seeing how his team does when he is injured, simply because the team will be playing with a hole in its regular line-up.

The Red Wings have terrible stats during the few games that Lidstrom has been injured. That doesn't mean that Detroit is a terrible team without Lidstrom. It just means they are a terrible team when they don't have a 1# d-man. If they didn't have Lidstrom they would try to sign another 1# d-man. He probably wouldn't be as good, but he'd certainly be better than the AHL call up they'd use if Lidstrom was injured for just one game.

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01-30-2011, 01:35 PM
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Well the Oilers won a Cup without Gretzky. I guess he wasn't important either.

Seriously, it's the mark of a great team that they sustain the loss of a top player and continue to win. And the Avs were pretty great. Two Cups, perennial contenders. It's not a knock against the player, it just speaks to the experience, character and depth on the bench, and the motivation coming from behind the bench.

In one of the periods you mention...I think it was 96-97...the Avs lost Sakic and Forsberg at the same time, and went on a tear.

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01-30-2011, 01:40 PM
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I know it's a lot of work, but do you have the resources to do an on-ice/off-ice analysis? Feel free to decline, of course.
Unfortunately I don't know any way to do this, aside from manually going through every game summary. Apparently there's a fast way of doing this using some type of data extraction tool, but I don't know how.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TasteofFlames View Post
I really like these kinds of studies. Often times you'll have people come by and talk about how statistics mean absolutely nothing, but this is a case where the stats clearly back up what we all saw. Thanks for the read HO, interesting stuff.
Glad you enjoyed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Infinite Vision View Post
I've never really thought of Sakic as a non flashy subtle player like Lidstrom, Gretzky, or Larionov. He's somewhere in between them and a flashy guy, because I'm not going to lie his speed and wrist shot are pretty flashy and on display quite often in games of his. His stickhandling and puck control is actually quite noticable to me as well...
Sakic was, of course, highly skilled, but I feel that he relied far less on stickhandling and flashy highlight reel plays than most of the other top scorers of the Dead Puck Era.

Quote:
Originally Posted by overpass View Post
Good work showing Roy's numbers and the shot numbers in 2002-03.

Here are Forsberg's numbers when Sakic was injured. In 20 games played:

10 G, 28 A, 38 P, +25

Edit: Got the numbers wrong the first time, apparently I forgot how to count. But yeah, that was a good reason to give Forsberg the Hart trophy. Talk about stepping up.
No question that he deserved the Hart that year.

I recently posted that in the following season (2003-04), Sakic significantly increased his production when Forsberg was injured. Your data would support what I've stated several times - namely, Sakic and Forsberg both likely would have scored more had they played on separate teams, where they both would have been the undisputed #1 forward. Both players (or their agents) must have realized this too. Kudos to them for building a winning team together, rather than splitting and trying to maximize their personal offensive stats.


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01-30-2011, 03:04 PM
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Please expand.

I am of the opinion that you can't really meassure how great a player is by seeing how his team does when he is injured, simply because the team will be playing with a hole in its regular line-up.

The Red Wings have terrible stats during the few games that Lidstrom has been injured. That doesn't mean that Detroit is a terrible team without Lidstrom. It just means they are a terrible team when they don't have a 1# d-man. If they didn't have Lidstrom they would try to sign another 1# d-man. He probably wouldn't be as good, but he'd certainly be better than the AHL call up they'd use if Lidstrom was injured for just one game.
Well, I'm surprised HO didn't swing at this tee-ball, but I'll stay mostly out of it and hope he answers... I have other things on my plate. You're talking like HO presented this study as if it was the definitive work on Joe Sakic. Nothing is definitive. This is one piece of the puzzle on any player who has a moderate to lengthy injury history - how did his team perform without him? It's a perfectly reasonable thing to want to study, for reasons that should be obvious.

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01-30-2011, 09:32 PM
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Unfortunately your numbers don't mean much. If a team loses their top center for a few games they are probably going to replace him with a temporary call up from the AHL. Of course the AHL call up is not usually going to do as well as the NHL regular.

To determine how valuable someone is you need consider who their replacement is. Assume for example that Crosby retired from the Penguins. The Penguins wouldn't use his $8.7 million cap hit to sign an AHL replacement, they would try to find the best replacement player, someone like Stamkos, Datsyuk or Backstrom. Only once that replacement was signed could you determine whether the team was better or worse of for it.
I agree that generally when a team loses an elite player, they'll do worse without him. It's common sense, and I only looked into Sakic specifically because a few people have said that he really didn't have an impact on Colorado's ability to win games.

Colorado was lucky because Forsberg was perfectly capable of taking over the #1 centre spot, but there's a domino effect. Forsberg can (more or less, depending on the season) replace Sakic, but the Avs didn't have anybody who could replace Forsberg on the second line. So Drury got more minutes on the second line (where he plays worse than Forsberg would have played). It gets worse - somebody has to replace Drury on the third line, so you have more and more depth players being forced to take on more ice time than they're really entitled to based on their playing ability.

I disagree with the Crosby example - Sakic was injured mid-season, so the Avalanche were stuck paying his salary, and they couldn't go out an get a replacement. Had he retired, Pierre Lacroix would have had a chance to replace him.

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