Thursday, 22 March 2012

Descryptyve Tyrmes for Olde Tyme Hockeyists

When discussing hockey players from long ago, the tendency is to use modern terminology to describe them. A gifted goal-scorer, such as Herb Jordan or Joe Malone, might be called a "sniper", for instance. A physical winger, such as Gordie Roberts, is called a "power forward" (shudder). This is understandable, as an attempt to frame old-time players in terms understood by modern fans, and it may be useful in that sense.

But on the other hand, players are really best viewed in their own contexts, rather than trying to force them into modern roles, which are often imperfect descriptions. In that regard I think it's better to use contemporaneous terms when discussing these players, and not just in the "oh, they called faceoffs bullies, how quaint!" sort of way.

The disadvantage to this approach, of course, is that if you're not familiar with the era, you have to learn these new terms. That's a small price to pay, I think, and if you have an interest in hockey history, it's well worth it.

So to begin with, here are a few descriptive terms that can be used when discussing early hockey goaltenders.

Stonewall: A stonewall goaltender (or netminder, or guardian, but never a "goalie") is one that is simply proficient at stopping shots through his positioning and technique. He frustrates his opponents' efforts by making stop after stop; he would not be said to make a save. Percy LeSueur is an example of a stonewall goaltender.

Flopping: A flopping netminder is one who finds a way to get some part of his anatomy between the puck and the goal. Generally less consistent that the stonewall variety of guardian, a flopping goaltender is more likely to make a spectacular stop. Clint Benedict is perhaps the epitome of this style, as his constant flopping actually led to rule changes for the position, which previously were required to remain on their feet when making a stop.

Stickhandling: A stickhandling guardian is one who tries to liberate the puck from opposing attackers before they can even get a shot off. He challenges opponents by leaving the goal area and uses his stick to separate disc and man. Paddy Moran is a prime example of a stickhandling goaltender, as we've discussed here before.

I'm always open to suggestions for additional "classes" of player, if you will. Next time: defencemen. (Never blueliners.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Assists per Goal in the 1910s and Beyond

I was recently asked about assist rates in the first years that assists were officially awarded. As you may know, the PCHA began awarding assists in 1912/13, and the NHA followed a season later. And as you might also know, for many years very few assists were awarded per goal (as compared to modern standards). How few? This few:

It's possibly interesting to note that the NHA/NHL awarded fewer assists per goal than their western counterparts most every year (though their rate is less consistent). The possibly interesting part is whether this is simply due to slightly different standards in awarding assists, or whether it has to do with the fact that the PCHA still used the rover while the NHA did not. With more players available to participate in an offensive rush, perhaps it makes sense that more assists were awarded per goal.

It may be worth noting that when the PCHA finally dropped the rover after the 1921/22 season (as they began playing an interlocking schedule with the WCHL, which did not use the seventh man), its assist rate dropped from 0.57 to 0.51, and stayed at that level or lower, whereas in the final seven seasons with the rover, the PCHA had an assist rate of between 0.57 and 0.60 six times. This suggests to me that at least part of the reason that the NHA/NHL had a lower assist per goal rate is the lack of a fourth forward.

The first really big jump in assist rates occurred in in 1929/30. In 1928/29 there were 0.60 assists per goal, but there were 0.82 the following season. This is clearly due to the change in the forward passing rules that season, which made individual rushes less important and passing plays more important. The rate went to 0.92, then 1.05 in the next two seasons, and would never drop below that level again.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Probably-Not-Meritorious Men of the 1920s

Note: This time of year could be called the Tax Season Lull around here, since what I do for a living eats seriously into the time I have available for more important pursuits, such as writing about obscure hockey players from history that no one cares about. It should pick up again in May.

To complete our look at potential Hall of Famers from the 1920s, we have the bottom tier. These men were very good players indeed, but although some of them were honoured with inducted, it's difficult to make a case for them based on the results of their careers.

34ADAMS, Jack58492.5672.9Yes
35BAILEY, Ace77842.7770.9Yes
36BURCH, Billy59622.6770.5Yes
37MUNRO, Dunc36883.2270.5No
XTRAUB, Percy310252.2965.8No
XWILSON, Phat310672.5165.3Yes
XTRAPP, Bobby38092.4762.5No
XHIMES, Norm579432.5261.8No
XWATSON, Harry54623.2961.4Yes
XGREEN, Wilf76742.4057.0Yes
XGREEN, Red66662.2956.9No
XGOHEEN, Moose35782.5454.9Yes

At the top of the list is Jack Adams, who was a very effective centre in his prime, but didn't have enough good years to really be considered an elite player. Surely his lengthy tenure as GM and coach of the Red Wings did nothing to colour the memories of his abilities as a player.

Ace Bailey's induction is a tragic one, in the sense that he was inducted due to a tragedy. Bailey had one outstanding season in 1928/29, but other than that was good-not-great. His injury probably didn't prevent his meritoriousness, since his offensive production had already dropped considerable before Eddie Shore's hit.

Billy Burch was more famous than his ability suggests he should have been. He rep was embiggened by promoters when the Hamilton Tigers moved to New York, being called the Babe Ruth of Hockey in an effort to draw fans to the games. He was very good, but did not deserve the Hart Trophy he won in 1925, and has not real claim on a spot in the Hall of Fame. Burch's linemate Wilf Green is an even worse selection; he barely even beats out his brother Red in terms of meritoriousness, but his fame as the leader of the Hamilton players strike created name recognition that his play could not.

That leaves us with Phat Wilson, Harry Watson and Moose Goheen. These three are similar in the sense that none of them played at the highest level of the game; only Goheen even played professionally, in the minor leagues from 26/27 to 31/32. They all benefit from this fact, because they never had to play against the very best competition available. Memories of their play can therefore easily be overestimated. Although I'm missing much of Goheen's early career, the numbers we do have don't suggest Hall-of-Fame calibre. Neither do Wilson's; he was the best player in a fairly weak league (Thunder Bay senior league), which grew even weaker when the minor professional leagues become organized in 1926/27.

Harry Watson is a bit different. Although surely inducted for his performance in the 1924 Olympics, Watson was in fact an excellent player, one who could have most likely had a very good NHL career should he have chosen that route. He effectively retired from hockey at age 26, as so many amateur players did, playing only a game or two per season after that. If he had a full-length professional career, he'd be much closer to the "maybe yes" line here, although he lacked the (at least) one really big season most Hall-of-Famers have.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Maybe-Meritorious Men of the 1920s

Last time we looked at players whose career was centred in the 1920s, and who probably merited election to the Hall of Fame, based on their TPAK results. Today we take a step down, and examine the next tier of players, those who might deserve the honour, but might not.

The list is below. We know the actual Hall of Fame got 19 of the top 21 players "right" - they only missed two of the deserving players from this era. We can see that only three of the 12 players in this tier have been given hockey's highest honour: Frank Fredrickson, Babe Dye and Punch Broadbent.

22FREDRICKSON, Frank511503.1584.9Yes
23ROACH, John RossG10943.3084.6No
24GAGNE, Art79523.3683.5No
25DYE, Babe77833.4283.3Yes
26HITCHMAN, Lionel38223.5383.0No
27DUNCAN, Art311303.0080.6No
28BROADBENT, Punch711562.7479.3Yes
29ABEL, Taffy37983.5378.8No
30WINKLER, HalG11592.8877.3No
31LeDUC, Albert37493.2876.1No
32CORBEAU, Bert311622.6775.0No
33REISE, Leo310083.0274.6No

I can't argue with the inclusion of Fredrickson and Dye, but I'm not sure about Broadbent. He had one massive season in 1921/22, but other than that he produced solid but un-outstanding years. On the other hand, he did miss three full seasons to the war, in his prime hockey years. Three more seasons of 3.50 TPAK or so would certainly lift him up to the "probably yes" level rather than the "probably no." So it depends on whether you think players should be given credit for hockey they might have played if not for major international conflicts.

It would lead to the sticky situation of his being deemed meritous, while the player directly above him, Art Duncan, would not. Duncan, a defenceman who spent most of his career in Western Canada, is very close to being deserving, to my eyes. But he never had that one huge season that most Hall-of-Famers have. He did lead the PCHA in scoring in 1923/24, but of course he played left wing that season, not defence. As a blueliner he contributed to the offence but was merely good in his own end. I think his career is just not quite good enough for the Hall, and the actual voters have agreed to date.

Just above Duncan on the list is Lionel Hitchman, who I think probably deserves to be called a meritous man. He was a hard-rock defenceman, and his presence this high on the list is a testament to the ability of the Point Allocation system to recognize the excellence of stay-at-home blueliners. Hitchman is credited with only 8.2 offensive points in his NHL career (not a complete zero, but very low), but 68.7 points for his defence.

I would draw the line below Hitchman. Players like Taffy Abel and Battleship LeDuc, both physical defencemen, don't have quite enough to their careers to deserve the honour, though at their best they were very good indeed. Bert Corbeau and Leo Reise, on the other hand, have length to their careers but not depth. Neither were truly among the very best defenceman of their time. Hal Winkler is a personal favourite of mine, but I couldn't honestly recommend him for the Hall either. He too was never an elite player, "merely" an excellent one.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Meritorious Men of the 1920s

To continue our look at Hall of Fame inductees versus TPAK results (previously discussed: the 1910s, 1900s, and the earliest years), we go on to the 1920s.

In an unsurprising development, the Hall of Fame voters continue to agree with the TPAK results to a greater degree as time goes on, and as they get into players they had the greatest chance of being directly familiar with. In the case of players whose careers were centred in the 1920s (see table below), we find the top 17 players (and 19 of the top 21) have actually been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The only ones that have been missed out are Carson Cooper and Corb Denneny.

Carson "Shovel-Shot" Cooper was a dominant scorer for the Hamilton Tigers of the OHA in the early 1920s, leading his senior league in goals three times and points twice; in 1923/24 he scored 33 goals in 10 games and finished his OHA career with 108 goals in 55 games. Signed by the Boston Bruins in November 1924, it didn't take long for Cooper to make an impact in the NHL. In 1925/26, he finished second in the league in goals, behind only the legendary Nels Stewart, and was third in points. In 1928/29 he was in Detroit (and 32 years old), and though his raw numbers were less impressive (due to the scoring environment of the league at that time), he was third in goals and tied for third in points.

Cooper is found deserving of the Hall because his OHA numbers are not ignored. He had only two NHL seasons among the best scorers, but it must be remembered that he didn't play his first professional game until the age of 27. This means his NHL career was played mostly in the decline phase of his career. Point Allocation, however, doesn't pretend that the NHL is the only league that matters at this time of the game's history. So Cooper's thoroughly impressive OHA production is given the full credit it deserves.

Corb Denneny, lesser-known than his Hall-of-Fame brother Cy, had a 19-year senior/professional career. Though never the best centre in his league, his consistency and longevity are what earns him Hall-of-Fame-level merit here. Being just below the very best for an extended period of time is quite remarkable in itself.

I see every player listed on the table below as deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, based on their TPAK results. And speaking of longevity, check out George Hainsworth's career. He managed 1611 effective games played, which is the equivalent of playing a full 80-game schedule for 20 seasons, plus a bit. Hainsworth played his first senior hockey in the OHA (at the age of 17) in 1912/13, a full 11 years before he would play his first professional game. After 11 seasons of senior-level amateur hockey (all but one of which was played in Berlin, later Kitchener), he began a 14-year major-pro career, retiring at the age of 41. Like Cooper, Hainsworth gets credit for this time in the OHA, which was a high-quality league at the time and cannot simply be ignored because it was not professional.
1MORENZ, Howie511164.67124.8Yes
2HAINSWORTH, GeorgeG16113.84116.9Yes
3COOK, Bill713414.08116.7Yes
4BOUCHER, Buck313044.16112.9Yes
5JOLIAT, Aurel613283.86109.7Yes
6NIGHBOR, Frank512863.77109.3Yes
7BENEDICT, ClintG13193.95108.6Yes
8CONACHER, Lionel311774.08105.9Yes
9OLIVER, Harry7513323.58105.3Yes
10CLANCY, King311854.04102.7Yes
11MacKAY, Mickey5412893.5399.3Yes
12DENNENY, Cy612413.6398.0Yes
13NOBLE, Reg3513823.4596.2Yes
14GARDINER, Herb39463.7594.7Yes
15KEATS, Duke510013.5790.4Yes
16SIMPSON, Joe311933.4290.2Yes
17DUTTON, Red312823.2990.1Yes
18COOPER, Carson710233.3888.5No
19DENNENY, Corb512673.0286.9No
20HAY, George69553.5085.8Yes
21CONNELL, AlecG7763.7385.2Yes
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