Saturday, July 30, 2005

Draft: Where Are The Europeans?

The first round of the NHL draft is now over. What jumps out at me is the lack of draft picks who had been playing in Europe. No Russians were picked at all. Is this evidence that GMs think that entry level salary restrictions will keep Europeans in Europe? The first European chosen was Anze Kopitar a Slovenian who was top scorer in the Swedish Junior League last year. The TSN mock draft had him going fifth overall. He wasn't selected until 11th by Los Angeles. People are scared to pick Europeans beacuse they may not be able to offer them enough money to get them to the NHL. Only five players who played in Europe last year were picked in the first round.

Its a shame that the NHL talent base appears to be getting reduced by this CBA.

Here are the first round selections:

1 Pittsburgh Sidney Crosby, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
2 Anaheim Bobby Ryan, RW, Owen Sound (OHL)
3 Carolina Jack Johnson, D, U.S. U-18
4 Minnesota Benoit Pouliot, LW, Sudbury (OHL)
5 Montreal Carey Price, G, Tri-City (WHL)
6 Columbus Gilbert Brule, C, Vancouver (WHL)
7 Chicago Jack Skille, RW, U.S. U-18
8 San Jose Devin Setoguchi, RW, Saskatoon (WHL)
9 Ottawa Brian Lee, D, Moorhead HS, MN
10 Vancouver Luc Bourdon, D, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)
11 Los Angeles Anze Kopitar, C, Sodertalje Jr. (Swe)
12 NY Rangers Marc Staal, D, Sudbury (OHL)
13 Buffalo Marek Zagrapan, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
14 Washington Sasha Pokulok, D, Cornell (ECAC)
15 NY Islanders Ryan O'Marra, C, Erie (OHL)
16 Atlanta Alex Bourret, RW, Lewiston (QMJHL)
17 PhoenixMartin Hanzal, C, Budejovice Jr. (Cze)
18 Nashville Ryan Parent, D, Guelph (OHL)
19 Detroit Jakub Kindl, D, Kitchener (OHL)
20 Florida Kenndal McArdle, LW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
21 Toronto Tuukka Rask, G, Ilves Jr. (Fin)
22 Boston Matt Lashoff, D, Kitchener (OHL)
23 New Jersey Nicklas Bergfors, W, Sodertalje Jr. (Swe)
24 St Louis T.J. Oshie, C, Warroad HS, MN
25 Edmonton Andrew Cogliano, C, St. Michael's (OPJHL)
26 Calgary Matt Pelech D, Sarnia (OHL)
27 Washington Joe Finley, D, Sioux Falls (USHL)
28 Dallas Matt Niskanen, D, Virginia HS, MN
29 Philadelphia Steve Downie, RW, Windsor (OHL)
30 Tampa Bay Vladimir Mihalik, D, Presov II (Svk)

Complete List of Buyouts

The buyout period in the NHL ended yesterday (Friday). Any player could be bought out by his team for 2/3 of the remaining money on his contract after a 24% rollback. The player then becomes an unrestricted free agent who cannot rejoin his old team under any circumstance for one season. Here is a complete list of players that were bought out:

Tony Amonte Philadelphia Flyers
Mathieu Biron Florida Panthers
Chris Gratton Colorado Avalanche
Darian Hatcher Detroit Red Wings
Bobby Holik New York Rangers
Matt Johnson Minnesota Wild
Scott LaChance Columbus Blue Jackets
John LeClair Philadelphia Flyers
Darren McCarty Detroit Red Wings
Brian Savage Phoenix Coyotes
Pierre Turgeon Dallas Stars
Ray Whitney Detroit Red Wings

Toronto has also filed paperwork to buyout Owen Nolan, but this may or may not be necessary since there is a dispute on his status.

For the most part, only the larger market teams had the money to throw at players to make them go away, so only larger market teams bought out players.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Injuries and the New CBA

Most likely, one or more teams will exceed the salary cap this season due to injuries. Injuries are hard to predict and may cause teams to pay more money in salaries than they originally planned. If a team is playing with a payroll very near the salary cap and players get injured, some other players will have to be paid to fill their roster spots (along with the injured players getting paid) and this may force teams to exceed the salary cap. Whether or not this becomes an issue is hard to determine at this point, although it is conceivable that a bigger market team may plan to have a payroll right at the maximum with no room for injury replacements to get paid. When the inevitable injuries occur, the GM must shrug and say oops we have to exceed the cap in order to ice a lineup. And the team may do this in perpetuity. Even without any attempt to subvert rules, some team will be unlucky and come out like Los Angeles in 2003/04 and lose a lot of man-games to injury (they lost 536 man-games). It is very likely that a team in an unfortunate situation like that will be forced to exceed the salary cap to merely ice a full lineup of players all season.

The relationship between players and their team is also going to change becoming more strained due to the CBA. This CBA is set up to increase player movement between teams. Some estimate 30-40% of players changing teams annually, mostly through liberalized free agency. When more players change teams, more players who have suffered injuries playing NHL hockey will find themselves unsigned. They will get hurt playing hockey and then find themselves unemployed. An NHLPA with power should have been addressing such issues, but instead they were helping out the owners allowing such a system to be set up. This is a further reason why the NHLPA should consider disbanding.

One instructive case of how injuries may be handled is the case of Vladimir Orszagh who today learned that the Nashville Predators will not make him a qualifying offer. TSN's story is here. Orszagh has been a popular 2nd or 3rd line for Nashville for the last three years the NHL has played. He was their fifth highest scoring forward in 2003/04. In the World Hockey Championships this spring, hurt his knee. He tore his ACL and MCL in his right knee and has had surgery. As a result, Nashville decided to let him go. Nashville GM David Poile says this:

I feel bad about it because Vlad has been one of our more popular players, and one of our better players and hardest workers. He thinks he can be ready by training camp and we don't think that's the case. The new system means players on injured reserve count against the cap, so we'd be paying another player to replace him as well.

Of course this is a lie, Nashville is not expected to have a payroll anywhere near the salary cap. They could not afford a payroll that high before the lockout and they cannot now. However, it is an interesting comment. There are teams that would find this a problem. There are teams that would be unable to sign injured players that they otherwise want because they cannot afford the player and his injury replacement. A strong union would be fighting against players getting injured and then losing their paycheque. There are further concerns. Orszagh hurt himself playing for his country in the World Championships. If I am a potential free agent would I chose to say no to playing for my country in an international tournament because should I suffer an injury it will cost me my job and lots of money? In Orszagh's case it would have been a preferable situation to his current one. We may see more players turn down international play because of the CBA.

The cold war between players and management is still being fought even with a CBA agreement. On the injury front, Owen Nolan and the Toronto Maple Leafs are fighting it. Owen Nolan suffered a knee injury in 2004. It may have been something that he hoped some time off from hockey would help recover. However, his knee never got better. He may need surgery or other medical intervention. TSN's first story on this is here. In this story, it is reported that Nolan's agent J.P. Barry is saying that if the injury occurred while playing in the NHL under the old CBA, Nolan will need to be paid his entire contract under the rules of the old CBA. Should Toronto wish to buy him out to open up some salary cap space they may, but this would be in addition to paying his contract. Legally, this argument seems correct. The Toronto Maple Leafs are fighting back. TSN reports this here. Toronto claims that the injury did not occur playing hockey (although they make no claim for how he actually got injured). Were this true, Nolan voided his contract and the Leafs owe him nothing. This fight will be one of the first of many between individual players and management in this CBA. This CBA is a truce at best and definitely not the end of the labor war.

One underlying issue in the Nolan case is that of team doctors. Team doctors work for the teams. They may misdiagnose situations, possibly due to pressure from their employers. If a player who is not in his team's longterm plans suffers from a degenerative condition that will cause serious damage in the future, the doctor may feel pressure to not diagnose this and keep the player in the lineup today. This may have been the case with Nolan or it may be a simple case of the doctors making a mistake. The lack of trust that sometimes exists between player and team doctors (who may be looking out for team and not the individual player) is a serious issue. It is one that will only get worse when player movement increases and it is more common to dump injured players. A strong NHLPA would have tried to address this issue in the CBA negotiations - but this did not occur this time.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bob Goodenow Resigns

The big hockey news today is Bob Goodenow announcing his resignation from his position as leader of the National Hockey League Player's Association. TSN's story is here. This comes as no suprise, Goodenow is hardly leading the union anymore as the union voted by over 80% to accept a CBA that Goodneow himself did not endorse. Whether or not Goodenow saw the writing on the wall and was fed up with the situation and left or he was asked to leave or both is unclear.

Bob Goodenow is the best NHLPA head in the history of the union - although that isn't really that high praise - it only means he didn't steal from the players like Alan Eagleson did. Goodenow did very well bringing the players a large piece of the NHL pie. The players should be thankful for his time in charge. The players gave a significant portion of it back in the new CBA - although it is still unclear exactly how much.

Ted Saskin will take over as the NHLPA head.

Times have changed. Its not clear that the NHLPA should still exist. Maybe the players would do better negotiating individually without an NHLPA as the NHLPA has served to protect the owners at expence of the players in this new CBA. If labor problems continue, that may become a reality in the future.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flyers Sign Carter and Richards

Today, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. TSN's story is here. This is significant because they were chosen in the 2003 entry draft and by the CBA in existence at that time, they should have been allowed to re-enter the draft when they were not signed by June 1st of this year (which they were not due in part to the lockout). I have written previously on this issue here and here. Since the clock all other contracts ran during the lockout, it was only logical that it would have on these players too, but it didn't. This seems like an unfair stretch of logic to me. Philadelphia has no problem letting go of players they don't want who are under contract but they manage to keep those who were not signed.

It was negotiated into the CBA that these potential draft re-entries could be signed by their 2003 drafting team until July 28th (tomorrow). If they are unsigned, they can re-enter the draft. So far, Patrick O'Sullivan has not signed with Minnesota and Marc-Antoine Pouliot has not signed with Edmonton. Both may re-enter the draft if they are not signed in the next day or so.

NOTE: Here is Bob McKenzie's take on the signings. The Flyers played hardball with these two not offering them the best bonus schedule in the CBA work entry level players. That is completely contradictory with Bobby Clarke's quote:

I would say these two kids will be easy to sign because they're going to get the maximum they're allowed. They earned it. You try not to give away money, but they earned the right to get the most. As soon as the CBA is done and we get a look at it and know what we can pay, we'll be able to get it done.

Clarke said this on July 11th.

NOTE #2: As of 2:20 PM Central Time on Thursday, I noticed that Minnesota has signed O'Sullivan. TSN's story is here.

NOTE #3: As of 6:30 PM Central Time on Thursday, I see that Edmonton has signed Pouliot. TSN's story is here. It looks like there won't be any significant players re-entering the draft.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How Good Was Bobby Hull?

In this post on sabermetrics and hockey I will look at another discrepancy in a comparison of the top 10 forwards of all time according to methods devised by Daryl Shilling and Pnep. I have already discussed Cyclone Taylor. Today, I will look at Bobby Hull.

Pnep ranks Hull as the 7th best forward of all time. Shilling rank Hull as the 5th best forward of all time. Since Pnep does not rank Cyclone Taylor (who Shilling ranks number 3) at all, this is equivalent to a discrepancy of three positions.

Hull broke into the NHL as a Chicago Blackhawk in 1957. He stayed with the Hawks until 1972. During his time there, he won the Stanley Cup once. He won the Art Ross and Hart trophies twice each. In 1972, he signed as a free agent in the WHA with the Winnipeg Jets. He stayed there until 1979 when the WHA folded. He remained with Winnipeg as they entered the NHL. He was traded during the 1979-80 season to Hartford and retired a Whaler. During his career he scored 610 goals and 1170 points in the NHL. He also added 303 goals and 638 points in the WHA. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. He made the first team all star at left wing 10 times and the second all star team twice. He is widely considered the best left winger of all time.

The reasons for the differences in their ratings are twofold. First, Pnep overrates the imporance of playoff success. Chicago wasn't overly successful in the playoffs. During Hull's time, they only won the Stanley Cup once. During this time, the Montreal Canadiens were a dynasty. Their players won the Stanley Cup multiple times. This leads to Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard receiving higher rankings under the Pnep system. Also, Daryl attemps to account for "undocumented seasons" which include Bobby Hull's WHA years. Hull receives points for his seven WHA years at his average career rate under the Shilling system. Hull was 32 wen he first entered the WHA and 39 when the league folded. He was passed his prime, it is an overestimate to credit him at his average career rate when he clearly was playing at below his career average. Although Hull is one of the best WHA players of all time, but he was outscored by other players who are not considered all time greats. Bobby Hull is the third highest scorer of all time in WHA history. He was outscored by Andre Lacroix (by 160 points) and Marc Tardif (by 28 points). It is reasonable to assume that Hull and Tardif were roughly interchangeable in terms of their contributions to their teams winning. Tardif would not get anywhere near the points under Daryl's system for those years as Hull does. This attempt to account for Hull's "undocumented" years at his career rate, when he clearly played below it, leads to his overrating. I question whether or not it is correct to consider his WHA years undocumented. WHA stats were well kept. Many people alive today witnessed his games. I think a better method would be to use his WHA stats after adjusting them for the calibre of opposition in the league. Bobby Hull is probably best ranked around number 6 or 7 all time on the list of forwards. Shilling ranks him higher largely due ot overrating his WHA time.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Some More Roster Moves

Teams will start making roster moves at a furious rate as they get an idea how best to handle the new CBA. With the first weekday of roster moves, we see a few teams making moves today. The Phoenix Coyotes are buying out Brian Savage. TSN's story is here. Detroit has waived Ray Whitney, Darian Hatcher and Darren McCarty in preparation to buy them out. TSN's story is here. The Montreal Canadiens have announced that they are declining their team option on Patrice Brisebois, making Brisebois an unrestricted free agent. TSN's story is here. Not all teams are subtracting players, Los Angeles is reporting that they resigned Luc Robitaille. TSN's story is here.

So what does all this mean? Its too early to tell. The NHL will probably be able to sell most if not all teams as contenders in the offseason this year. It will soon become clear in the season, that some teams are not actually going to contend. Will their ticket sales really suffer when this happens? Maybe ... depending upon the market.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

How Good Was Fred "Cyclone" Taylor?

This is the next post on sabermetrics and hockey. In a comparison of the top 10 forwards of all time according to Daryl Shilling and Pnep, Shilling rates Cyclone Taylor as the third best forward of all time. Pnep does not rank Taylor at all, because he only rates NHL players and Taylor never played in the NHL. Dayl Shilling's rating of Cyclone Taylor is higher than most lists of this type have him. So the obvious question is how good was Cyclone Taylor? Is that rating correct?

Fred "Cyclone" Taylor is a hockey hall of famer. His major league hockey career went from 1905 to 1923 in various different leagues, some of which are of questionable quality. Using the Total Hockey definitions of what is a major hockey league. His first major league hockey experience came in an early IHL (not affiliated with the minor pro league that lasted until the 1990's) playing for the Portage (Ontario) Lakes in 1905. he stayed there for two seasons before moving on to the Ottawa Senators in the East Coast Amateur Hockey Association. He was moderately successful at that time. He tried his luck in the United States playing for the Pittsburgh Pros in the Western Professional Hockey League. He lasted three games there with no points scored before returning to Ottawa in the East Coast Hockey Association (their league was no longer amateur). He won his first Stanley Cup that year in Ottawa. He moved onto the National Hockey Association (which is the direct precursor to the NHL) playing two seasons with the Renfrew Creamery Kings. He missed the next season due to a salary dispute and next played hockey in Western Canada. He played with the Vancouver Millionaires in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (which was a significant enough league to compete for the Stanley Cup). In his nine years there, Taylor was a bonafide star. He led his league in scoring 5 times and lead the Millionares to the Stanley Cup in 1915 as their leading scorer in the playoffs. Taylor retired for a year then had a failed comeback attempt with the next Vancouver PCHA team - the Vancouver Maroons. The comeback attempt only lasted one game.

On the whole, Taylor scored 314 points in 186 games in major hockey leagues. This includes 210 goals. His 104 assist total is suspect, because some of his early leagues did not record assists at all and others only awarded one assist per goal. 314 points in 186 games is very impressive. NHL players of today do not accomplish this. In Taylor's time, he regularly played only 16 to 20 games in a season. If we "adjust" the stats to 82 game seasons as Daryl Shilling did, those stats will be extremely impressive. Further, because of missing seasons in salary disputes and the fact that many of his season did not have assists, there is significant amount of time that is undocumented to be added to him to increase his totals. In Daryl's hockey project rating system, he attempts to give credit for undocumented seasons.

The obvious question with Taylor is how good was the opposition he played against? In the pre-NHL days there were several major hockey leagues that existed simultaneously. They competed with each other for talent, although there was no scouting or evaluation to find the best talent. Players sometimes made these teams merely by showing up at practise and auditioning for them. Undoubtedly, some of the better hockey players in the world were never discovered by these leagues and never had careers.

The general level of of talent of hockey players has risen over the years. There likely should be some kind of adjustment to statistics based on the era they played in. Early era players don't have the same level of opposition that today's players have. Bill James uses an era adjustment when he analyzes historical baseball stats. This should be done in hockey as well. Statistics need to be multiplied by some kind of quality of opposition factor. Taylor didn't have nearly as good a quality of opposition as today's NHLers do. Taylor's career numbers in major pro leagues were not that uncommon. The very next player listed in the Total Hockey notatable North American non-NHL players is William Taylor. He did not make the Hall of Fame. He played in an overlapping time with Cyclone (although he was a bit older) and scored 153 points in his 82 games for roughly the same scoring rate. There are many other examples of players like this.

Cyclone Taylor was a dominant player. A five time top scorer in the PCHA, who scored at a very high rate, won two Stanley Cups and made the Hall of Fame. Its hard to evaluate statistically exactly how high he should be relative to today's more recent players, but there is little evidence to suggest he should be considered the third best forward of all time. There is little evidence that he is among the top 10 forwards of all time. His high rating is mostly due to the normalization of a bunch of short seasons where he was a dominant player when seasons were very short - so normalization really increases his offensive totals. If I had to commit myself, I'd probably place Taylor closer to ther 30th best forward of all time then the 3rd best. It is hard to be certain exactly where to rate him because portions of his career are undocumented and because his quality of opposition was questionable, but third best forward of all time is absurdly high.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Buyouts Begin

Under the previous NHL CBA, the only players that could be bought on the open market were older players past their prime who were 31 years or older. Many teams could not control themselves from overpaying these players who were often no longer good enough to lead their teams to success. As a result, we had a lockout and lost a season of hockey (afterall that solution is far simpler than admitting teams have made mistakes and showing financial restraint in the future). Now the unrestricted free agents who were overpaid can be bought out. So teams will do this. The Philadelphia Flyers have struck first buying out John LeClair and Tony Amonte. The TSN article on this is here.

Upon breaking this news to a friend of mine offline who is a big Philadelphia Flyers fan, she responded "Oh no! Now I have a John LeClair Flyers jersey that will be wrong." I think player movement will get much more frequent under this CBA. It is probably no longer worth getting a player's name on the back of your jersey, he won't be in your town long. Most jerseys you already have with player's names will soon be out of date. Maybe the NHL hopes that this will help them make money as people will have to buy new jerseys with new players names.

LeClair and Amonte will be good pickups for a team. They will probably sign for a under a million dollars a year. At that price they will likely be worth it. Look for more buyouts to happen over the next few days. Teams have until July 29th to buyout contracts at two thirds of their remaining value after the 24% salary rollback negotiated into the new CBA.

Friday, July 22, 2005

NHL v2.0

Today marks the relaunch of the NHL. The NHL Board of Governors unanimously passed the CBA (and why shouldn't they they dictated its terms). TSN's story on this is here. They announced many new rules which range from the common sense (reducing the size of goalie equipment) to cheap gimmickry (shootouts). TSN's story on this is here. Finally, the draft lottery results were announced. The results are here:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Anaheim Mighty Ducks
3. Carolina Hurricanes
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Chicago Blackhawks
8. Atlanta Thrashers
9. Ottawa Senators
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Los Angeles Kings
12. San Jose Sharks
13. Buffalo Sabres
14. Washington Capitals
15. N.Y. Islanders
16. N.Y. Rangers
17. Phoenix Coyotes
18. Nashville Predators
19. Detroit Red Wings
20. Philadelphia Flyers
21. Toronto Maple Leafs
22. Boston Bruins
23. New Jersey Devils
24. St. Louis Blues
25. Edmonton Oilers
26. Calgary Flames
27. Colorado Avalanche
28. Dallas Stars
29. Florida Panthers
30. Tampa Bay Lightning

So Pittsburgh gets first pick. They will have the first seven years of Sidney Crosby's career according to our new CBA. Time will tell who will buy the rest of it including the prime years of his career. The TSN story on the draft lottery is here.

The important question is will the NHL be any better for this relaunch? Will it be worse? Will it be worth all the problems created in a lost season? I am skeptical.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

NHLPA Votes for Truce

The big news of the day is the NHLPA voting to ratify the CBA. TSN's story on the subject is here. I think the players voted for a CBA they largely do not like because they are even more scared of what may come from any of the alternatives.

This is not a labor peace. This is merely the end of the battle. The NHL won this battle by a large margin but the war is not over. There is too much hostility leftover. Whether the war is a hot war fought with future lockouts, strikes or other labor action or a cold war fought as a cold war with players jumping to Europe and looking for loopholes in the CBA big enough to drive a Mack truck through, I cannot predict. I do predict that this is not the end of the NHL labor battles.

Remember this. The NHL is merely a small subset of hockey. If the NHL is not what is wanted by fans, players or owners, they will look elsewhere. There could be plenty of room for a significant elsewhere to develop if this CBA holds player contracts to well below what the open market would provide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What is the NHL Hiding?

There are lots of people out there who love hockey and would love to get their hands on any and all minutia that is even peripherally related to it. however, the NHL is rarely openly making this information available to the public.

I think this was their successful lockout strategy. They started a campaign of misinformation about how much money they were losing in order to justify a lockout. At no point did they give any verifiable financial info despite the fans clammoring for it. As private businesses this was their right. They did release the Levitt Report which was billed as a "superaudit" of the NHL finances but was actually closer to an "independent" financial guy adding up whichever numbers the NHL teams offered him without attempting to verify any of them. Even assuming the Levitt Report was accurate, it was strongly lacking, it only claimed total league losses without attempting to break them down by team. Presumably, this was done because there were only a handful of teams that were losing large amounts of money and there would be some pressure to contract those teams instead of stage a lockout. Possibly, this was because some of these big "money losers" were teams like the New York Rangers that would make the entire results look questionable, since they spend money like a big money maker, implying that they only lose money on paper but not in practise.

The lockout is ending and the NHL has learned that most fans don't care about the details, so why present them? It makes it much easier to revise history in the future if this is needed for any purpose that may come up.

A new Central Bargaining Agreement has been agreed upon and will likely be ratified this week. The NHL does not present this CBA to the fans or media. Why not? Why is the only thing presented a few selected CBA highlights. It looks like they want to leave the fans in the dark. If teams make moves that don't work out to adjust to the new CBA, they can claim the CBA forced them to do it. If nobody knows the exact details of the CBA, then that point is hard to refute. The rules of the game are necessary information for any dedicated fan, but the NHL won't give it to them.

The draft lottery will not be broadcast on TV. The results of the lottery will be shown on TV not too long after the lottery has occurred. This has some people suggesting that the lottery may be fixed. What is gained by leaving the whispers of a fix in the public?

The NHL seems to be hiding as many of the details behind the game from the fans. This will only turn off dedicated fans. I can think of only one example of a sports related organization that hides its details from the fans more actively then the NHL - its the WWE.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

NHL US TV Rights

Mediaweek is reporting that the NHL is talking to four different groups about their TV rights in the US. ESPN, Comcast(OLN), Turner(TNT) and Spike TV. This is good. Like I suggested here, there is no reason the NHL needs to be confined to one of these networks alone. Let them all show games. The more games on TV the better for the fan and for publicizing the game.

Top 10 Forwards: Schilling vs. Pnep

In this post on sabermetrics and hockey, I will compare the top 10 forwards of all time by Daryl Shilling's hockey project rating method and Pnep's Hall of Fame Monitor.

By Daryl Shilling's method, the top 10 forwards of all time are:

1. Wayne Gretzky 1501 points
2. Gordie Howe 1398
3. Cyclone Taylor 1124
4. Mario Lemieux 1027
5. Bobby Hull 978
6. Phil Esposito 902
7. Jean Beliveau 799
8. Stan Mikita 784
9. Rocket Richard 767
10. Jaromir Jagr 765

Pnep's top 10 forwards are:

1. Wayne Gretzky 8827.02
2. Gordie Howe 6171.61
3. Mario Lemieux 4586.35
4. Jean Beliveau 4253.44
5. Phil Esposito 4096.48
6. Maurice Richard 3829.98
7. Bobby Hull 3671.88
8. Stan Mikita 3583.61
9. Jaromir Jagr 3237.64
10. Guy Lafleur 3060.04

Numerical values are not comparable in the two systems, but relative differences in them can be.

Comparing these two, Wayne Gretzky is picked as the best forward of all time by both methods.

Gordie Howe is picked as second best by both methods (although I think his longevity overrates him and I would pick Mario Lemieux).

Shilling picks Cyclone Taylor as his third best forward of all time, Pnep does not rank players who did not play NHL. I think this is much higher than he should be ranked. I don't think he faced the level of opposition that more recent players did. This is a topic worthy of its own post and I will do so in the future.

Both systems rank Mario Lemieux next.

Bobby Hull is next according to Daryl and Jean Beliveau according to Pnep. I feel Beliveau was a better player then Hull, although Hull produced better offensive numbers in his career. Pnep ranks Beliveau higher, but I think he does this for the wrong reason. Pnep overrates players who are on teams that have playoff success. Beliveau was part of ten Stanley Cup champion teams. Beliveau should be ranked higher than Hull because Beliveau was a far better defensive player. This is something that is hard to measure statistically and gets lost. Also, I think Bobby Hull benefits more than he should by attempting to measure the "undocumented" part of his career spent in the WHA (and documented there). This topic also deserves a separate post.

Next is Phil Esposito in both systems, which is probably a reasonable choice.

Next is Jean Beliveau according to Shilling and Maurice Richard according to Pnep. Again, I like the choice of Richard over Bobby Hull (again due to Hull's weaker defence) although I think Pnep selected Richard due to his 8 career Stanley Cups.

Next is Bobby Hull according to Pnep. Stan Mikita according to Shilling. I think Richard should be ahead of Mikita. Mikita might be overrated a bit because of his longevity in this method.

Next is Maurice Richard according to Shilling and Stan Mikita according to Pnep. Who are both people we saw earlier on the other list.

The final man on Shilling's list is Jaromir Jagr. He is the next man on Pnep's list also.

Pnep has a final man since he is missing Cyclone Taylor. That final man is Guy Lafleur.

The biggest difference is that Shilling rates Fred "Cyclone" Taylor. I think its an interesting, but incorrect, pick. That will get its own post. The next biggest difference is the rating of Bobby Hull. It will get its own post also. With the lack of Cyclone Taylor, Shilling ranks him 3 places higher.

Both started from approximately the same assumptions thus has similar order in their lists. Does that mean they are both mostly correct or that they are both making the same mistakes? I'm not sure, but will write a lot of words trying to figure it out,

Monday, July 18, 2005

How Will This CBA Playout?

The consensus opinion in the mainstream media is that this CBA is a wonderful thing for hockey. It will make all small market teams instantly competitive. Here is a typical article on this topic. This one is written by Robin Brownlee of the Edmonton Sun.

Ken Campbell of the Toronto Star has a different opinion. He argues that the lowered unrestricted free agency age will drive the most talented NHL players into the biggest NHL markets for their best seasons and this will hurt the small markets.

Colby Cash diagrees with this assessment and argues it in is his blog.

Of course Tom Benjamin has opinions on these topics. Here is his response to Ken Campbell and here is his response to Colby Cash.

My opinion on the topic. To some degree we will have to wait and see exactly hopw this CBA plays out. However, I do have some early opinions. It is clear that with reduced unrestricted free agency ages, that it will become possible to buy a future hall of fame player in the prime years of his career. This was not true under the last CBA. Drafting that future hall of famer is of far less value if he can leave as a free agent before he has the best years of his career. Drafting in general is much less important to building a championship team. The key to building a championship team will likely become buying the best free agents on the market. Of course a salary cap will prevent any one team from buying all the top free agents. This is necessary because it would otherwise become possible to buy a top team on the free agent market - something that was not true under the last CBA because the best players in the game never became unrestricted free agents until they were on the downsides of their careers. The most elite free agents will likely wind up in the largest markets. This will always be the case. Even if the team cannot offer them the largest hockey salary under a salary cap, they can have the largest total salary including advertising and other large market benefits (the same way Gretzky did more commercials as an LA King then as an Edmonton Oiler). Capologists will become extremely important to teams. If this salary cap is seen to be somewhat leaky, the large markets will still be able to outspend everyone else only this time they will be able to buy the best players in the league when they do so. That is a nightmare scenario. That is when championships will be bought. The small market teams will still buy free agents (they will have to as player movement will significantly increase - thery will have no other way to fill out their rosters) but they will buy the leftovers that the big markets passed up on.

In the short term before the free agency age drops too much, I think the key is to reading the new CBA and figuring out how to deal with it as fast as possible. There are a lot of players available this summer. A smart GM who is fast off the blocks will have a great opportunity. This is why I think New Jersey has a very good shot at the 2006 Stanley Cup.

On the whole, I like the last CBA. I thought it was arguably the fairest CBA's to the fan. I'm not sold that this one will beat it. I would not be suprised if it falls flat.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Goals Created

Continuing my series of posts on sabermetrics and hockey, we will now address the topic of goals created. This post is a bit of a footnote to my hockey player rating method post because that rating method uses goals created in its framework. The idea of goals created is presented by Daryl Shilling in his hockey project.

The idea behind goals created is to try to estimate how many goals a given player created for his team. They are estimated as follows:

Goals Created (GC) = (G * 0.5) + (A * (2 – (LWA/LWG)))

Where LWA is league wide assists and LWG is league wide goals in the season in question. This formula is an approximation. There is no deep basis to show that (for example) a goal scorer is responsible for the creation of exactly half of the goals he scores.

Let's look at some results of this formulation.

The 10 best careers ranked in terms of goals created are:

1 Wayne Gretzky 887
2 Gordie Howe 850
3 Mark Messier 631
4 Phil Esposito 599
5 Steve Yzerman 596
6 Ron Francis 596
7 Mario Lemieux 581
8 Marcel Dionne 578
9 Brett Hull 555
10 Stan Mikita 552

This is certainly a list of ten very good offensive players.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Is This an Off The Wall Prediction?

We haven't got much idea what rosters will look like next year. We haven't even seen the new CBA in print. And I am ready to predict that the New Jersey Devils will have a very good chance at winning the next Stanley Cup

How can anyone make a prediction at this point?

If we accept the premise that the new CBA is very important to building teams in the NHL and we accept that a large part of a team's success next season will come from the choices that they make this summer when they rebuild their roster with free agents and try to make it under the salary cap, then New Jersey has a big advantage. Lou Lamoreillo, their GM, was the only GM involved in the CBA negotiations. He actually knows what is going to be in the CBA. Other GMs are getting a crash course in the CBA. New Jersey already has a pretty good roster and given that their GM probably has a better idea then any other what to do under the new set of rules, I think the Devils have a very good chance at winning next year's cup.

Will that be the reason the Stanley Cup is won? Is this prediction really that ridiculous?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Complete List of NHL Players Updated

TSN has a list of all the players under contract for next year (with their salaries) plus free agents. It is here. Actually they did this once before and then mysteriously deleted it from their site. Thank you to to Michael at confessions of a hockey fanatic for pointing me to this link.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hockey Player Rating Method

I have been writing a series of posts on sabermetrics and hockey. I wrote several posts about Pnep's Hall of Fame Monitor. This is by no means the only way to rank players from different eras. Another attempt recently posted on the net is Daryl Shilling's new hockey project rating system.

This system takes into account six things. Tenure, career value, rate stat performance, dominance, awards and undocumented seasons.

Tenure is calculated by measuring the career adjusted games played (these are the percentage of games played in each season multiplied by 82 games (a standard number of games played in an NHL season). This is multiplied by 400 and then divided by the all time leader in adjusted games played (Gordie Howe). Thus, Gordie will get a score of 400 and all other players will have a lower score.

Career value is normalized goals, assists, points and goals created. Normalized scoring stats are explained here. Goals created is another sabermetric stat Daryl Shilling uses that I will have to write about another day or you can read about it here. Each of these stats is normalized by multiplying it by 100 and dividing by the all time leader. A player who leads in a 4 of these stats will again have a total score of 400 points.

Rate stat performance is measured using adjusted goals, adjusted assists, adjusted points and goals created all per game. Again it is normalized to give a maximum possible score of 400.

Dominance is measured using stats called ink points per year, career ink points, league leader points and 30Ink points. At this point, Daryl has not fully posted exactly how he determines these stats. I will quote his explanations, although they are not complete enough that I could calculate them myself. Basically they attempt to measure how often the player was among the league leaders offensively and how high in the league leaders he was

Ink Points are derived by a players finish in a category in a given year. For example, if a players lead the league in NG in 2004, then he receives 10 Ink Points. The second leading goal scorer will receive 9, third will get 8, and so, until the 10th leading NG scorer receives 1 Ink Point. In early year of the NHL, fewer players wll receive Ink Points due to their being fewer players in the league, and as such, more chance to receive Ink Points.

30Ink refers to any season in which a player recorded 30 Ink Points, meaning that he lead the league in Normalized Goals, Assists and Points. That would represent an extremely dominant offensive season.

Again this is normalized to be out of 400 and the all time leader in all four stats would get 400 points.

Awards include Hart Trophies, Conn Smythe Trophies, Norris Trophies or Selke Trophies, and All-Star nominations. Before these trophies existed, Daryl uses projected winners picked by various experts for years when these trophies did not exist. This leaves 4 possible categories for each player (since defenders can only win Norris but not Selke trophies and forwards vice versa). Each of these four categories is normalized to 100 points for a maximum of 400 points in this category if a player leads all time in number of victories in all 4 award categories.

Finally, we come to one of the more unique things Daryl attempts. He attempts to account for undocumented seasons. These are: players whose careers had begun before the formation of major league hockey in 1910, players that missed time due to military service or players who were unable to play major league hockey due to the political atmosphere of the world. He calculates the number of points a players expected points under this system per season then multiplies by the percentage of seasons in their career the player played in these undocumented years.

I'll have to explain goals created in a future post. Then we can have some fun and look at the results of the HPR system and compare it with Pnep's system. When we see which players do better in the respective systems, we can gage the strengths and weaknesses of them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Prospective CBA Complete and Agreed Upon

Earlier today, it was announced that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed upon a prospective CBA. The agreement still needs to be ratified by both the NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA. Here is the TSN article.

Hopefully, this will allow us back to hockey normalcy as soon as possible. I am very skeptical that this new CBA will be good for hockey. I hope to be proven wrong, but I don't think this CBA will make hockey any better for the fan (certainly not enough better to justify the loss of a season). I'm sure I will write many posts about it as things start to play out.

I believe that the NHL owners won this battle. I think the labor war is far from done. There may be more stoppages in the future. There may be a loss of talented players to European teams. The future is hard to predict at this point.

One thing is clear, the NHL has chosen to take a path where they have irreversably broken with its past. I hope the choice works out for the best. I have my doubts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Revamping the NHL Teams Point System

After an Al Strachan article about the NHL potentially changing its point system so that a regulation win is worth 3 points, a win in overtime or a shootout is worth 2 points, a loss in overtime or a shootout is worth 1 point and a regulation loss is worth zero points (presumably with shootouts there would be no more ties - but Strachan still proposes 1 point for ties)), the blogosphere is discussing this proposition.

Jes Golbez likes this proposal. I agree with him in that winning with the monstrosity that will be a shootout should be worth less than winning in regulation. He goes further to calculate the 2003/04 standings under this point system. Here it is:

1. Detroit Red Wings 148 points new system (109 points old system)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning 142 (106)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs 141 (103)
4. San Jose Sharks 138 (104)
5. Ottawa Senators 136 (102)
6. New Jersey Devils 134 (100)
7. Philadelphia Flyers 133 (101)
8. Dallas Stars 133 (97)
9. Calgary Flames 130 (94)
10. Boston Bruins 130 (104)
11. Vancouver Canucks 128 (101)
12. Colorado Avalanche 125 (100)
13. Montreal Canadiens 125 (93)
14. New York Islanders 123 (91)
15. Nashville Predators 118 (91)
16. St Louis Blues 117 (91)
17. Buffalo Sabres 116 (85)
18. Edmonton Oilers 114 (89)
19. Minnesota Wild 109 (83)
20. Atlanta Thrashers 101 (78)
21. Los Angeles Kings 98 (81)
22. Florida Panthers 94 (75)
23. Anaheim Mighty Ducks 93 (76)
24. Carolina Hurricanes 93 (76)
25. New York Rangers 85 (69)
26. Phoenix Coyotes 79 (68)
27. Washington Capitals 78 (59)
28. Columbus Blue Jackets 77 (62)
29. Pittsburgh Penguins 70 (58)
30. Chicago Blackhawks 67 (59)

Tom Benjamin argues that a change in the point system will not open up the NHL and lead to more scoring, which is a stated Gary Bettman objective. I agree with him, although I think it is stupid to judge all moves by a rather meaningless method (will it increase scoring). I found the NHL of 2003/04 very exciting. I have no complaints except that it was thrown away for this lockout. I would be happy with no major changes to the system (although I think there is no chance I will get my wish). This suggested point system is more logical and quite possibly better represents the quality of the teams when applied to 2003/04.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Selig vs. Bettman Commissioners

I am watching the Home Run Derby in the baseball All Star Game festivities right now. They just finished talking to baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Selig is a bit of an impotent commissioner in that the bigger markets (like Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers) will not allow him any significant power to do anything against their interests even if it is in the best interests of baseball. However, listening to him, I was impressed that it is clear that he loves baseball and loves to talk about baseball. The ESPN commentators couldn't get rid of him; he just wanted to talk about baseball. I found myself wishing Gary Bettman would be like that. He's cledarly not a fan who enjoys just sitting around and talking about his sport. It's sad when Bud Selig makes one wax poetically about what a commissioner should be. Yes, hockey's commissioner is that bad.

Flyers Want to Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

When the lockout finally ends, there will be a huge group of free agents. The NHL owners are, in general, not too unhappy about this because many of them will be resigned for far below a 24% paycut. Hockey rodent explains why there will not be salary cap room on most teams to sign UFA's at their current rates (less 24%). However, there is one group of potential free agents, those that are draft re-entries that their NHL teams do not want to become free agents. Under the old CBA (which is presumed to still be in existance until the next one is signed), any player who was drafted in 2003 who has not signed a contract as of June 1st, 2005 can re-enter the draft and if the draft is not held by the end of June, they will become free agents. These players would be bound by entry level salary restrictions making the elite ones the most underpaid players in the NHL, so teams do not want them to become unrestricted free agents.

The team most affected by this will be the Philadelphia Flyers with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, as TSN reports. These are arguably the two best players among this group of potential free agents. These were two stars in their farm team the Philadelphia Phantoms AHL Calder Cup victory. If the Flyers lose these players as UFAs it will be a major loss for the franchise. Naturally, the Flyers want to use the new CBA to get out of all the contracts that they no longer want, but they want to use it to keep these two potential stars. Seems that the Flyers are asking for two inconsistent things but they will both benefit them. Contracts on the old CBA run out, unless they don't want them to.

With the lack of bargaining power of the NHLPA, the Flyers may get their way. The most likely arguments will come from other teams that want a shot at Carter or Richards as free agents or from legal action filed by their agents.

Notice also, from the Bobby Clarke quote in the TSN article referenced above how the value of agents is significantly reduced under the new propsed CBA. Here is the Clarke quote:

I would say these two kids will be easy to sign because they're going to get the maximum they're allowed. They earned it. You try not to give away money, but they earned the right to get the most. As soon as the CBA is done and we get a look at it and know what we can pay, we'll be able to get it done.

Its easy to sign these guys. Offer them the most they are allowed to offer them and they will still be bargains under the new CBA. Clarke can claim it is something they earned and look like a good guy to them despite how hard he and his team fought to reduce the amount these guys could earn by fighting to reduce entry level salaries in the CBA.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

More On Sidney Crosby

On Wednesday, I wrote about Sidney Crosby negotiating with Lugano in Switzerland. Although Crosby is unlikely to go to Switzerland, it is an option he has if he does not like the team that drafts him or the new entry level salary restrictions. Damian Cox is making veiled threats at Crosby. If Crosby does not play ball with the NHL, he will be painted as a spoiled brat teenager by the media. If he plays ball with the NHL, he will be portrayed by the media as the All-Canadian kid. Here is a quote from his article:

Moreover, how exactly are Brisson and his IMG cronies positioning this young man, an athlete so attractive that Reebok and Gatorade have already thrown promotional dollars at him? Do they want to create the clean-cut, all-Canadian kid? Or do they want to create the image of a spoiled teenage millionaire always looking to get his way?

This is an example of how many members of the media attempt to manipulate the fanbase. They need to be on the "inside" with the NHL so they will fight the NHL's battles through their choice of topics and angles to discuss in their stories.

Sidney Crosby does not owe the NHL anything. If the NHL is setting up a situation where it is not in his best interests to play their game, then he shouldn't play their game. And the media has no right to paint him as a spoiled brat for not playing the NHL's game.

Tom Benjamin has a very good discussion on this topic.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Why Does The NHLPA Exist?

Why does any union exist? It exists to help its members achieve better salaries, benefits, working conditions etc. The NHLPA is no different. It exists to help the NHL players in getting better salaries, benefits, working conditions etc. So how is it doing?

The players have been locked out for a season. During that time the NHLPA has been negotiating a new Central Bargaining Agreement with the owners. This CBA looks to be almost completed. It looks as though there will be a salary cap, which is in many cases less than teams had previously been paying under the old CBA. It looks like salaries will be tied to revenue of the owners. It looks like there will be strong reductions in entry level pay through strict salary restrictions. It looks like 10-20% of player salaries will be help in escrow as insurance in case the payroll of the league is larger than a defined percentage. It looks like current player contracts will be rolled back by 24% financially. In short it looks like the owners wrote the CBA. It looks like the players gave on every major issue. It looks like the NHLPA is not doing its job to get better salaries, benefits, working conditions etc.

It has been said that the NHL owners needed a new CBA to protect themselves from themselves. Under the old CBA they were allegedly spending themselves into bankruptcy. They couldn't stop themselves from doing this. Somehow they were incapable of setting a budget and sticking to it. The NHLPA is inadvertantly helping out the owners instead of the players that they allegedly represent.

In fact, the NHL owners might need the NHLPA more than the players do. A collective bargaining process allows the owners to avoid anti-trust legislation. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the players agree to give up the right to chose to work in whichever city they want. They chose to allow themselves to be drafted by any team with no choice in the matter. They chose to allow themselves to be traded whenever their current team feels it is fit. They chose to subject themselves to salary caps and many other restrictions. Without a collective bargaining agreement, such conditions would be illegal by anti-trust laws. If the new CBA is as expected, the owners need the NHLPA more than the players.

So why does the NHLPA exist? Why doesn't it decertify? This would lead the players free to negotiate contracts without any restrictions like salary caps with any team that would want to offer them. Could this be better than the current situation? Quite possibly. I think the players are in general scared to "rock the boat". Playing in the NHL under some CBA (even a bad one) feels safer then decertifying the union. Even if it might lead them to increasing their earning with no NHLPA.

I think decertification of the union is a real possibility, but it may not occur for a while. If the labor situation does not improve under the new CBA, it will become seriously considered.

Tom Benjamin has a very good discussion on this topic.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I NOW consider Brendan Shanahan a Hall of Famer

One question I have spent a lot of time discussing (in lieu of actual NHL hockey) is which players should make the Hockey Hall of Fame. In February I posted this list of currently non-retired NHL players that I consider hall of famers regardless of what they do or do not do in the future. I am ready to amend that list today and add Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan is clearly a very good player. His 558 career goals scored is good enough for 17th all time. He has been a part of three Stanley Cup champions. He has made the post-season first all star team twice and the second team once. He has appeared in seven NHL All Star Games. Clearly those are good numbers.

Why did I not induct him earlier? Shanahan played a significant portion of his career during one of the highest scoring eras in NHL history. His highest scoring seasons were in those conditions, so his career totals should be quite high to be impressive. During that era, he only once managed 100 points in a season (1993/94). He was never the best player on his team - although he did play on some very good teams with other Hall of Fame players.

Clearly he was close. He is one of the highest goal scorers of all time (although his career assist and point totals are not nearly as high). He has twice been named the best left winger in the league (although arguably in 2000, it was because no left winger had a truly great year). He has been a consistently very good player at all star level on a very good team and has had significant post-season success. I wanted to see him continue it a bit longer before deciding he was a Hall of Famer. Maybe he should rise a little higher in the career goal totals or something.

So what changed? Shanahan hasn't played any games lately. First, he has been very important in the lockout. In December, he held a hockey summit to discuss the way the NHL could improve its product. As a result, he got involved in CBA negotiating sessions. As a direct result of this, there will be a competition committee when NHL play returns and he will be a charter member. The lockout appears to now be at an end, and it is time to begin to put some historical perspective upon it. Shanahan was an important player in it. Even if the competition committee never accomplishes anything and is soon forgotten, it is a sign that he made a positive contribution.

Also, because Shanahan could not play for reasons beyond his control, I am a bit more lenient when judging his career goal totals. Had Shanahan played a normal season at this juncture in his career this past season, he would likely have passed Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur in the all time goal scoring list and moved up to 15th overall. Thats a pretty impressive career.

As of today, Brendan Shanahan is now a player I consider good enough for the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what he does for the rest orf his career.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Entry Level Salary Restrictions

I have long claimed that entry level salary restrictions will drive some NHL ready talent away. I think the most likely candidates are talented Europeans who can make as much money or more while staying in Europe, instead of uprooting their lives to come to the NHL. I think Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be the first two examples of this. I think it is a horrible shame that the NHL could be so short-sighted to shortchange their fans the chance to see these talented players.

It turns out that even Sidney Crosby is negotiating to play in Europe. That's right, North American talents may turn down the NHL if they can make substantially more money in Europe. Sidney Crosby is negotiating with Lugano in the Swiss league to sign a contract that could be worth up to $10 million over three years. It is believed that under the new NHL CBA, Crosby will be able to make about $3 million maximum in the NHL in that time. I am sure that Crosby doesn't want to actually play in Europe. I am sure that the hope is that the "Crosby clause" will be put in the CBA to allow extremely talented players to make far more than they can under the expected CBA entry level restrictions.

Crosby already has signed endorsement deals with Reebok and Gatorade and would likely make more endorsement money in the NHL then overseas, but will he be able to make enough endorsement money to make up for being very underpaid (as compared to what the free market provides) under entry level salary restrictions?

Even if Crosby does not go overseas, many talented European prospects will not bother coming overseas to the NHL because there is less money for them to be made as long as they are bound by entry level restrictions. Further, middle class type Europeans squeezed out by the salary cap may also depart the NHL when their potential incomes drop under the new CBA. This can only hurt the NHL. Its major strength is being the league with all of the best hockey talent in the world. It is not clear if that will remain true under the new CBA. If it is not true it will be a huge loss for the league and for the fan of the league. No longer will fans be able to watch all the best players in the world regularly.

John Fontana at Boltsmag also discusses this subject. Although we both agree Crosby is unlikely to play in Europe next year, he fails to see that other European players who have NHL talent will - and as a result we will be denied the chance to watch them play. These are the potential Ilya Kovalchuk's and Marian Gaborik's of tomorrow who will be kept out of the league (at least for a few years) by a bad CBA. In a nightmare case, the Gaborik's and Kovalchuk's of today might get some competitive offers to play in Europe if their NHL pay declines.

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