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Hockey writer and analytics specialist Neil Greenberg on The Tony Kornheiser Show

Hockey writer Neil Greenberg was a guest today on The Tony Kornheiser Show. Kornheiser has referenced Greenberg’s writing recently on-air, appearing to become somewhat of a fan of the advanced hockey stats expert and Washington Post, ESPN contributor. Here are some highlights from today’s appearance, Greenberg’s first ever on the show:

Greenberg on drinking from the Stanley Cup after the Rangers won it in 1994:

“I was frequenting some of the bars in Nassau County…there were people taking pictures with the Cup outside of one of the bars, so we stood in line. As soon as I turned the corner to enter the bar, someone said, ‘Do you want to drink from the Stanley Cup’ and I said ‘Absolutely.'”

On Alex Ovechkin’s decline:

“He’s getting older. There’s two things that are happening. One is just your general age progression. People have a misconception as to when hockey players, especially goalscorers, peak. It’s typically between the ages of 22 and 24 and then you start to see a down-slope at age 27. Ovechkin has pretty much been in that exact pattern.”

“If you look at how Ovechkin scored his goal early on in his career when he entered the league it was by a volume of shots. It was more quantity than it was quality. He led the league with 425 shots when he came in. He was just a completely dynamic player that tossed rubber at the [net] from ever angle. And as those shots per game decreased, it took the goal scoring along with it. And what we’re seeing now is a player who’s putting up 300 shots on goals as opposed to 500 and 400 shots on goal. So, the goal scoring numbers are going to come down. Now, to his credit those shots on goal have up-ticked a little this year but a lot of goal scoring is also luck. You have a clank of the pipe here, it goes through the wickets there. He hasn’t been seeing a whole lot of puck luck as maybe he’s had in the past. He’s just going to be the 50 goal scorer that he was probably ever again.”

On if Ovechkin is an assist guy, a set-up guy like Gretzky or Lemiuex, with room to elevate his game:

“Ovechkin is a good passer. I think that’s actually one of the most underrated parts of his game. However, he’s not Gretzky, he’s not Lemieux. He’s not going to tally a whole bunch of points from… [Kornheiser jumps in and says, "He's not Crosby."] He’s certainly not Crosby. So, he’s not going to be getting points that way. The switch to right wing was an effort to get him away from that overpowering move he had down the left side where he would go down the left wall and try to cut in and score the goal that way, because that just wasn’t working anymore. The defenses have caught up to that. So, you’re right. His points are going to come from goals and, unless he starts to adapt his game a little bit more on the right wing, we’re going to see some 25 to 30 goal seasons.”

On Ovechkin making “a lot of money”

“That’s where people’s expectations, I think, are coming unglued because they see on paper this 65, 50 goal scorer that’s making $10 million and they think that’s going to happen in perpetuity. But, look, the Ovechkin contract was a bad contract. When they signed Ovechkin to that contract, for that period of time, it was a bad deal. And you can never expect a goal scorer to score 60, 50, 60 goals a year for ten years. It’s just not reality.”

On if the Caps know what Greenberg knows about Ovechkin

“I think so. Hockey analytics has definitely become bigger in the past couple years, however you still have, and I’m not speaking specifically about the Caps, but in the NHL in general, there are some teams that are embracing it. I know that Tampa Bay has a hockey analytics guy on staff, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Calgary, some other teams are embracing it. But, as far as the Capitals are concerned, they seem to trust the coaches more than the numbers. An I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. However, I think that there’s room for both, especially when you’re looking at player evaluation.

[I'm going to interrupt this transcription, as I've just read on Twitter that Russian Machine has sent out a transcription of the entire interview. So, rather than duplicate work, check the Russian Machine Never Breaks transcript of Neil Greenberg on the Tony Kornheiser Show by Peter Hassett and I'll go write something else.]

 

What should the Caps do with free agent Alex Semin?

Of the six players on the Caps roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents, none has garnered as much attention so far as Alex Semin.  Recently on Twitter, we asked what people thought the Caps should offer Semin or how they should replace him if he signs elsewhere.  Here are some of the responses:

Semin’s agent has already said that his client won’t accept a one year contract this time around.  He has also said a lot of other things that I chalk up to posturing, that his client didn’t exactly support when asked about the comments.

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a ...

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a faceoff against Slovakia during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Greenberg wrote a great piece on Semin’s value, in which he advocated bringing  Semin back on a 1 or 2 year deal for about $6 million per season.  There was also a great FanPost on Japers Rink that took a look at Semin’s value using some fancy charts.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself when talking about Semin’s value when so many Caps fans seem opposed to even bringing him back.  I don’t want to rehash what we’ve already spent plenty of time on in previous posts, but perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion of Semin if you think he’s lazy and should not be brought back under any circumstance.  I also think anyone who opposes bringing back Semin needs to propose how we replace him.  This team needs more top-6 forwards, not less, and if Semin walks then the holes in the top-6 become even more glaring.

If the Caps don’t re-sign Semin, the decision better be part of a larger overhaul set to take place this summer.  Letting Semin walk and taking a business-as-usual approach to the rest of the off-season will result in a team with even deeper flaws than the one we watched over the past season.

Given that I’m not George McPhee, I don’t have the benefit of knowing what options are available to the Caps if they decide to go with a larger overhaul this off-season.  That being said, I don’t see a better option out there than bringing Semin back if the contract makes sense.  I’d absolutely not go any longer than a four year term, and I’d be much more comfortable with a two or three year deal.  In terms of dollars, I wouldn’t go over $6 million per year under any circumstance, and would be much more comfortable with a cap hit in the $5-$5.5 million range.  Unless a major overhaul takes place, specifically to the Caps top-6 forwards, I don’t see how this team gets more competitive by letting Semin walk away.

BrooksLaichyear’s Pat Holden talks Alex Semin on The Mike Wise Show

Mike Wise invited me to call his show to discuss our disagreement over Alex Semin.  I appreciated the offer, Wise was fair and cordial on air, and while I’m not sure we’re any closer to agreeing about Semin, it was nice of Wise to invite me to call in.  I don’t think Wise gets a fair shake from many Caps fans and my beef with him is not as deep or vindictive as some of the things written or said about him by other Caps fans, but simply about Alex Semin.

Wise is in a bit of a catch-22 with Caps fans where some say he doesn’t know the sport well enough to talk about it while others will criticize him and his colleagues for not covering the Caps enough.  Personally, I think it’s great that the Caps are relevant enough to have people other than just their beat writers giving them media coverage.  Wise will be the first to say that he’s not a “puckhead” and I don’t think he needs to be in order to talk about the Caps on his show or write about them in the paper.  It’s a little silly to expect him to know the sport as in depth as, say, Alan May, and equally as silly to think he should shut up because of that.

So the short-winded summary is that this is not me taking issue with the fact that Mike Wise talks about hockey but instead the fact that he’s wrong when it comes to his analysis of Alex Semin.  Below is the audio of our conversation (not included in this audio clip is the other dude on the air with Wise calling me a “bozo” before I’m on the air).

I don’t think any score was settled and I know there are plenty of people out there who agree with Wise.  I’m not going to fire a shot after the whistle here by building my case without Wise around to offer a rebuttal, but I think it would behoove Wise and those that agree with him to do some further research on Semin. I think you’ll find that, regardless of battles with inconsistency or how he seems to be playing, Alex Semin does not simply have the potential to be an elite player, but in fact has been an elite player for years.  A good place to start is here where Neil Greenberg provides evidence that “Semin has not just been a very good player; he has been an outstanding one.”

Pierre McGuire needs to rethink his Alex Semin narrative

The Washington Capitals played on the NBC Sports Network twice in the course of nine days recently, with Pierre McGuire “Inside the Glass”.  In both games, McGuire called out Caps winger Alex Semin and in both games Semin, within a minute of McGuire’s comment, put his name on the score sheet with a play that showcased his immense skill.  What I find most frustrating about the commentary is not that McGuire rehashed the same old “Semin is an enigma” narrative, but that he refuses to reevaluate the merit of the narrative in the face of evidence that should compel him to do so.

The first incident was the Caps-Wild game on March 25.  I’ve been unable to find the footage of McGuire bashing Semin, but here is a clip of the goal where you can deduce what McGuire had previously said based off of his analysis of the goal.

Just before that clip begins, McGuire said that the Caps “need more” from Semin and that he isn’t moving his feet or giving a good enough effort.  The game was tied 0-0 in the 2nd period, so it is fair to say at that point that both teams “need more” from any player, not just Semin, that they were relying on for contributions offensively.

In the 2nd period this past Monday night, Semin hit the post on a great chance in front and then just a moment later rifled a shot past Dwayne Roloson to give the Caps a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay.  This launched McGuire into full Semin/enigma mode.

McGuire’s analysis was already astutely broken down here, but my point is similar. Is the sequence in the Tampa game really justification for McGuire’s position?  Or is it perhaps a chance for McGuire to reevaluate his narrative?  Was Alex Semin’s performance against Minnesota really one that merited him being singled out as the player that wasn’t contributing enough?  Or was McGuire taking the easy and lazy way out?

This wouldn’t be the first time that Semin was inaccurately evaluated by those outside of Caps-land.  After all, in 2010, Semin was quite possibly the first player to score 40 goals and then be left off the All-Star ballot the following season.  In present day within Caps-land, a couple of well-respected voices have spoken up in support of Semin.  Neil Greenberg recently looked at Semin’s value to the Caps and concluded the team should bring him back when his contract expires at the end of the season.  During the aforementioned Caps game vs. Minnesota, Alan May made an even bolder claim about Semin’s value to the Caps.

My point here is not to suggest that McGuire is absolutely wrong in his assessment of Semin (although, I would conclude that he is, but again, that’s not my point here), but instead that Semin’s immediate rebuttals to his comments are examples of why McGuire should at least reexamine his narrative.  Perhaps McGuire would still conclude Semin is an enigma, even if he took a harder look at the notion. However, isn’t it time that he at least takes his commentary on the Caps’ winger off auto-pilot?

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