Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Year in Review: Jan Hejda

Here are some quick thoughts on Mike Chambers's recent review of Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda's 2011-2012 season.

Avs year-in-review spotlight: Jan Hejda

Chambers does a passable job recapping Hejda's season, which I would describe as solid if not spectacular. Chambers mentions that Hejda played a lot of minutes against the opponent's top line, but concludes that he will need to be more of an impact player next season to be worth his contract. Fair enough, I don't really disagree.

I find some of Chambers's conclusions confusing, however. For example, he notes that Hejda was 4th on the team in hits (he was actually 3rd, as McGinn was with SJ the majority of the season) and 2nd in blocked shots, but then writes that these "numbers are disappointing." I suppose anything less than leading the team in both would be disappointing to Chambers?

Chambers also notes that Hejda had only 24 penalty minutes, failing to fulfill the expectation that he would be "a tough, physical force on the back end." Who, exactly, expected that of him? Nobody who watched him play, that's for sure... the guy has averaged less than 35 penalty minutes a season through his career, and if not for one particularly feisty year in which he amassed a whopping 61 minutes, his career season average would be under 30. Now, if he'd been a 120+ PiM guy in Columbus, but came here and got 24 minutes, then I'd agree he didn't deliver what was expected... but only somebody who didn't do his homework would have thought Hejda would come to the Avs and play an overtly physical game.

Where Chambers really goes off the rails, though, is here:

Don’t believe your little league anonymous blogger — plus-minus is hockey’s best overall statistic, because it’s how hockey players judge themselves. Especially role players, like own-zone defensemen and fourth-line forwards. And Hejda surely hates the fact he was minus-17 — a negative five even-strength goals behind the next worst, Milan Hejduk (minus-12).

Anybody who jumps to the defense of the +/- rating -- to say nothing of calling it "hockey's best overall statistic" -- casts serious doubt on their ability to understand the difference between an interesting statistic and a good one. Sure, the +/- rating tells you something, but it simply cannot be used to demonstrate how one individual player is more or less effective than another. It's a brutally flawed stat: you can do everything wrong and be flat on your back, and still get a plus due to the genius of a teammate; or you can play completely perfectly and get a minus because your goalie had his head up his ass. A bad player on a good team will be a plus, while a good player on a bad team will be a minus. It's a stat that combines equal parts ability, teammates, situations a player is used in, and pure dumb luck... it is the worst stat in hockey (if not in all sports), especially when taken completely out of context as Chambers does here.

And the argument that it's the best because "it's how hockey players judge themselves" is ludicrous. Kids on the playground judge themselves by which one's oldest, or who's dad could beat up the other kids' dads... does that mean teachers should grade kids based on their age and dad-toughess-ratings? I know that hockey players often concentrate on their own +/-, but that certainly doesn't make it a good stat to use when evaluating a player's ability or worth. Chambers loses credibility big-time here.

Chambers also takes a potshot here at jibblescribbits, a blogger who was invited to the All Things Avs blog and recently wrote an article in which he explained why the +/- is a lame statistic. Interestingly, I can't seem to find that blog post anywhere, it appears to have been removed from the DP website. This is no big deal, as jibblescribbits has his own blog and is, in my opinion anyway, better off as far away from the Post's writers as possible. But still, why the personal attack here? As somebody who had been impressed with Chambers's work in his first year on the Avs beat, both in his knowledge of the game and his overall professionalism, I feel this review of Hejda's season really puts some holes in the bottom of Chambers's boat.

Hejda Review: D-


  1. Joe Sakic, a great scorer and solid overall defensive player, scored 273 points in his first three seasons as a Nordique, and was -102. Ended his career at +30, not bad but nothing special.

    Martin Skoula, more of a punchline than a player at least among Colorado hockey fans, is barely behind Sakic at +8 for his career.

    Jon Klemm--a serviceable defenseman with a decent career (773 NHL games) but nothing to write home about--is +73.

    This alone should be enough to show a reasonable person that plus/minus is anything but "hockey's best overall statistic."

  2. Wow, Jon Klemm was twice the player that Joe Sakic was? I guess I'm surprised to learn this, but stats don't lie, right?