If you flip six standard-deck playing cards, with the jokers removed, there is more than half a chance that you will get three cards of the same suit. It sounds crazy and illogical, but it's true. Part of the problem comes because our mind is tuned to believe that there is only a quarter of a chance of a suit coming up at the outset, and we need to accept that all the suits are interchangeable.
This all started on a camping trip last week. We ended up arguing at night about odds because we were playing drinking games with a deck of cards. I said that there was "half a chance" as nonchalant as I could, and was called out on it. "Cam, your math is wrong and your stats are weak," was the general impression.
(We're going to get to hockey after the jump, I promise)
This crept again again last night. We were dicking around with the cards again, and my friends were teasing me about this. My math was wrong and my stats were weak again, evidently. So I flipped six cards. Two spades, two diamonds, a heart and a club. Whoops. So I flipped again. And again. And again, and, sure enough, those three times, three of the same suit appeared. Despite a small sample of anecdotal evidence to show the group that this was more possible than not, they continued to disagree on the premise that my theory "doesn't make sense".
Every card suit is interchangeable, just as athletes on sports teams are interchangeable. It's a new line of progressive thinking in front offices that is, on the surface, designed to take the fun out of sports. For years before free agency, players played on the same team for life, it seemed. Now there is so little continuity between players and teams year-to-year, it led Jerry Seinfeld to once say that we are "cheering for laundry". Sometimes, your favourite player happens to pack his bags and leave to play hockey in Phoenix, and then, when he's a free agent again, he goes to play in Florida. And this really sucks, because you were hoping for the chance to cheer him on again, although deep down, you know that Ed Jovanovski is probably not the key to a Stanley Cup-winning team.
But the fun still exists. Sports don't become any less enjoyable when you attach price tags and number values to particular players. Nothing gets less enjoyable the more you know about it, with perhaps an exception to eating fast-food. We seek to know more about sports and why things happen on the ice or on the field or on the court the way they do because we enjoy what happens in those arenas. When the Oakland Athletics scrounged bits and pieces to work around the hole left by superstar slugger Jason Giambi, as chronicled in the book Moneyball, they ignored the conventional wisdom about certain players. The success of Scott Hatteberg with the A's is an amazing story, better than that of the future story of Ryan Smyth scoring 15 goals with Edmonton next season.
I have no doubt that Smyth is a type of player that the Edmonton Oilers needed. They were weak at left wing. However, Smyth is not a better hockey player than Dustin Penner at the current stage of their respective careers. One is old, one is young. Oilers fans will disagree, because Smyth is a "team-oriented" player who can be the "heart and soul" of a team, and Penner is "fat and lazy". Sometimes we let our subjective opinions of teams and players influence our thought. Because Jonathan Toews wins championships, he's viewed as a God amongst Hockey Players who farts rainbows and is incapable of making a bad play. He is, of course, just another interchangeable centreman who happens to get favourable offensive shifts and generates some success with his situation. Jonathan Toews didn't win a Stanley Cup. A deck of Chicago Blackhawk playing cards won a Stanley Cup, and the beauty with playing cards is that, until you flip them over, you do not know what to expect.
Of course, the more cards you flip over, the more your odds change. When you draw Jaromir Jagr, Brad Richards or Joel Ward out of the deck, you know instantly that your chances of finding a high-quality scoring forward in the deck of face-down cards is reduced. Let's look at a particular player, where his name is face-down and his statistics are on the back of the card. He is just an interchangeable left-winger.
-This particular player saw just 11.61 minutes of even strength ice time in 56 games last season, but he still managed to score 15 goals. That is a goals per 60 measure greater than MVP Corey Perry, former MVP Martin St. Louis, scoring champion Daniel Sedin, Jarome Iginla and Patrick Kane.
-This particular player managed this impressive goal total while keeping a not-too-high shooting percentage of 11.9%, not too elevated from his career average of 10.4%.
-This player also led his team in Corsi among forwards, an expanded +/- statistic which includes all shot attempts directed at either net, not just goals.
-This player did not see protected shifts. He started 49.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone relative to the ones in the defensive zone, and played against middle-of-the-pack competition.
-Last season this particular player made just $2 million and is expected to take less to stay in the NHL, despite turning just 27 in November and likely entering the prime of his hockey career.