Is George McPhee playing “Moneypuck?”

Posted August 11, 2012

Billy Beane, who is currently the Vice President and General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, was once considered crazy for buying into the outlook of Bill James. James is a baseball historian and statistician whose book “The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” is a foundation of modern-day sabremetrics. There’s a movie called “Moneyball” which chronicles Beane’s adventures in adopting James’ ideology.

For those who haven’t seen the movie (and if you haven’t, you should put it at the top of your list), there is a scene where Beane is in a conference room with his assistant GM and scouts trying to piece together their roster. The key issue is replacing Jason Giambi, who signed a contract with the New York Yankees. Beane listens to newly hired assistant GM Peter Brand, and instead of spending a lot of money on one player, they sign three players whose contracts are much less to do the same job.

While watching this movie and seeing what the Capitals have done this past offseason, I asked myself if George McPhee is trying to do the same thing as Billy Beane. You know, “moneypuck.” He has had the daunting task of replacing Alexander Semin, a former 40-goal scorer who recently signed to play with the Carolina Hurricanes. The job of doing this has fallen on free agent signings Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb. McPhee has done this by paying them much less money ($600,000 and $950,000, respectively- a major savings from Semin’s $6.7 million cap hit last season) and giving the Capitals cap flexibility for any trades.

In order to try to prove this, I will be using the site Behind The Net for the stats. I will also take the stats for Crabb and Wolski, then divide by two to get an aggregate. So, here are the results):

What do these results mean?

The Wolski/Crabb duo saw much stiffer competition than Semin this past season while seeing half of their starts in the offensive zone. What will hurt the Caps next season will be the fact that Wolski and Crabb are going to have a hard time driving possession the same way that Semin did. Could you chalk that up to tougher competition? Sure, but Wolski is going to be the second line winger for the team (barring a trade or a free agent signing) and that’s what’s going to hurt the team. Wolski will see much stiffer competition next season when he plays in the top-six, and the team will have trouble with possession when he’s on the ice. A bright spot here is that the Wolski/Crabb combo has a PDO of only 990, so their combined shot percentage suffered due to not generating any puck luck. If they can combined get it to 1000-1005, this will mean their shot percentage will go up and in turn, a few more goals may be scored from this combination.

In short, the combination of Wolski/Crabb may help the Caps to fill the void in some areas that Semin’s absence leaves, but McPhee may have to look for some outside help to truly replicate Semin’s numbers.