My Work During The 2016-17 Season:
Why Disciplined Defensemen Deserve More Praise (March 15th, 2017)
The Canucks are Finally on the Right Path (March 1st, 2017)
A GM’s Guide to the 2017 Trade Deadline (February 21st, 2017)
Why the Calgary Flames Should be Aggressive (February 14th, 2017)
Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy: Is Tryamkin For Real? (February 9th, 2017)
How Pace of Play can Influence Results (February 7th, 2017)
Money Puck: The Hidden Value of Back-Up Goalies (February 2nd, 2017)
The Many Varieties of NHL Goal Scorers (January 24th, 2017)
How Brian MacLellan Rebuilt the Capitals (January 19th, 2017)
Canucks Mid-Season Report Card (January 17th, 2017)
Patrick Maroon is Playing The Role of Milan Lucic (January 10th, 2017)
Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Look Like a Playoff Team (January 3rd, 2017)
Sam Gagner, The Blue Jackets, and Modern Player Usage (December 29th, 2016)
Artemi Panarin is Changing The Game (December 21st, 2016)
The Downfall of the Detroit Red Wings (December 15th, 2016)
Should Brandon Sutter Be Playing with the Sedins? (December 9th, 2016)
Which Players are Driving Their Team’s Offence (November 29th, 2016)
One Month Into the Season: What’s Real, What’s Not? (November 15th, 2016)
The Rangers Surprisingly Exciting Style of Play (November 9th, 2016)
Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy: Canucks Scoring Issues (November 4th, 2016)
Steven Stamkos’ Leap Back Into Lethal Scorer Status (November 3rd, 2016)
Jonathan Marchessault and Prioritizing Talent over Tradition (November 1st, 2016)
Why The Ducks Have Started Slowly (October 25th, 2016)
Four Underrated Defencemen Set to Break Out (October 13th, 2016)
Four Underrated Forwards Set to Break Out (October 8th, 2016)
My Past Written Work:
The UFA Bargain Bin (June 30th, 2016)
Buyer Beware: Where Teams Make Mistakes in Free Agency (June 29th, 2016)
Measuring Defensive Performance in the Neutral Zone (June 8th, 2016)
Analyzing the questionable Gudbranson trade (May 26th, 2016)
How defensemen protect their blueline (May 17th, 2016)
A defenseman’s role in quarterbacking 5-on-5 offense (May 3rd, 2016)
Lightning Need to Pay Their Elite Scorer, but it’s not Stamkos (April 21st, 2016)
Why Discipline is Important Come Playoffs (April 18th, 2016)
Changing the Way we Evaluate Defensemen (April 15th, 2016)
Predicting the Playoffs using Recent Results (April 12th, 2016)
Readjusting Expectations for Evaluating Scores (April 8th, 2016)
Kris Letang’s Tale of Two Seasons (April 2nd, 2016)
Goalies in Back-to-Back Situations (March 27th, 2016)
The Cost of Icing a Winning Team (March 19th, 2016)
Which teams are legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders? (March 7th, 2016)
The Value of Acquiring Draft Picks (February 23rd, 2016)
Which teams are legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders? (March 7th, 2016)
Kris Russell, Microstats, and Puzzle Pieces for Analysis (Published March 2nd, 2016)
“The one misconception here is that the two means of analysis are mutually exclusive. Not only are they not, but they actually work together as complementary puzzle pieces that come together to illustrate a larger picture of what’s happening on the ice. The distinction between them is that while Corsi tells us “what” took place, microtracking tools such as zone exits tell us “how” or “why” it did. In that way they’re intertwined, with a change in one of them signalling some sort of intrinsic alteration to the other.
Where mictrotracking data becomes particularly useful is when it’s able to be stripped down, evaluated, and then repurposed in a practical manner. By breaking the game down into the 3 separate zones, it’s possible to manipulate certain traits to optimize the overall performance. While that information’s reproducibility and quantifiable impact is still in its infancy stages, lagging well behind that of more concrete possession numbers, that doesn’t mean it’s an area that can’t potentially be exploited.”
Manipulating The Schedule To Gain a Competitive Advantage (Published February 18th, 2016)
“There’s little nuanced adjustments like that which the coaching staff can tinker with during the stretch run to ensure that their top players are in peak physical condition when it matters most. A trickier schedule looming on the horizon from March 1 on, including 5 back-to-backs and a trip out West through California, could force their hands to ease up on the reins.
The reality is that competition gets tight come the spring. One reason why the NHL playoffs are so exhilarating is because parity reigns supreme in the sport. When the crop of teams gets dwindled down to the best of the best, the pre-existing margin for error from the regular season essentially vanishes. Every little bounce or decision can determine the outcome of a game, and in turn a series.
With that in mind, it makes sense that teams would be exploring every possible avenue for getting even the slightest leg up on the opposition, in any place they can get it. Over the years we’ve seen a greater attention to detail invested into the preparation that takes place off of the ice well before the players make their way onto our television sets.
The current point structure in the regular season generally makes it exceedingly difficult for teams to separate themselves from the pack. By taking care of business in the manner which they have early on, the Capitals have afforded themselves a distinct opportunity to manipulate the schedule in their favor. Come the playoffs when the meters are running on empty, it could very well be the thing that makes the difference between winning and losing.”
On Minnesota’s Wild Percentage Swings (Published February 13th, 2016)
“It’s encouraging that their coach seems to have a good grasp of these trends, based on his recent comments (though there’s been some early signs of cracking at the seams under all of the growing pressure). He’s not wrong that all of the shot rates they’re directing towards the other team’s net are, for the most part, in the same ballpark as they were before this swoon. Recognition of that is at least part of the battle, because it’s awfully easy to overreact in an irrational manner in times like these.
The issue is that the process eventually needs to start translating into results and some of those shots need to start finding their way to the back of the net. At some point a blip in the radar becomes a real trend, and we appear to be rapidly reaching that point as the losses continue to pile up. Especially since the overall play itself irrespective of the bounces they have or haven’t been getting has been slipping.
There’s still over a third of the season left to be played, but the Wild can’t really afford to keep digging themselves a hole of this depth like they have been in recent weeks. Not in the Central Division, where a collection of the league’s biggest and baddest titans reside. Something’s got to give.”
Sidney Crosby is Back! (Did He Ever Really Leave?) (Published February 10th, 2016)
“With Crosby there will always be a bittersweet backdrop about what we all may have been cheated out of when concussions derailed him just as he was reaching the level of hockey legends.
As well as he’s playing now, and even has over various stretches since then, it seems unrealistic that he’ll ever legitimately once again approach the rarefied air he was in as a player during that 25-game point streak prior to the 2011 Winter Classic.
None of which is to put a damper on his current production, but more so to speak to the unfathomably high standard he’s set since the moment he entered the league a decade ago. The accompanying expectations stemming from that surely played a role in fueling the reverberation felt around the hockey world in response to his early season struggles.
He’s been so good, for so long, that the way he is judged is different from anyone else. Anything else beyond status quo is instantly alarming.
There will eventually come a time when Crosby can’t hit this extra gear he’s been clipping along at during this stretch. Fortunately for the Penguins, it looks like all of the murmurs that the decline of his career was imminent was premature to say the least. It may not seem like it right now for his opponents, but the league is a better, more enjoyable product when Sidney Crosby is firing on all cylinders like he has been recently.”
The Trade Market for Dan Hamhuis (Published January 27th, 2016)
“Trading a veteran asset like Hamhuis at the deadline might be a hard pill to swallow for a team that still appears to fancy itself as competitive one despite growing underlying evidence to the contrary. Especially given the difficulty they’ve had patching a usable defense corps together in his absence. But it would also be a prudent one, showing off a certain level of foresight and objective understanding of the position they’re currently in on the league’s food chain.
It would also hardly preclude them from having their cake and eating it too, assuming Hamhuis would be interested in coming back home this summer to finish his career. After all, that’s exactly what the Coyotes did with Michalek, to tie things back to that past example of a general blueprint they could follow if they choose to.
Fans are naturally fixated on the top end of the team’s prospect pipeline, but for the purposes of the people in the front office itself, tending to the depth beyond just those first couple names in the system should be equally as important of a mandate. The Canucks should be in the asset collection business by any means necessary, whether that means accruing young players or stocking up on draft picks. This is one of those opportunities that’s fortuitously presented itself for them to do just that.”
The Red Wings Should Disable Ken Holland’s Phone Service in February (Published January 27th, 2016)
“The Detroit Red Wings have been a decidedly successful franchise under Ken Holland’s watch. Since being appointed as the team’s General Manager before the ‘97-’98 season, their overall resume from start to finish has been unparalleled any which way you slice it. They’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup as the last team left standing in the playoffs on three occasions while adding an additional four Presidents’ Trophies as the league’s best regular season team on top of that. As such, it’s not surprising that no franchise has won more regular season games or playoff games than they have in that time.
While a certain confluence of various contributions is necessary in enabling that kind of sustained success, Holland’s individual role in assembling all of those teams shouldn’t be understated. Yet for all of those skills he possesses as a team-builder, one particularly glaring weakness has started to become a recurring theme for his regime in recent years: his propensity for making poor in-season trades.
With the season for trading on the horizon, ultimately culminating in February 29th’s deadline day festivities, the Red Wings should, at least, consider preemptively disabling his phone service for the duration of the month. After all, it’s hard to get taken in a trade if there’s no one on the other end of the call in the first place.
Where Holland’s gotten himself into trouble specifically over the years has been on the occasions when he’s seen fit to pony up a collection of assets for a rental player that likely he figured would help push his team over the hump. Making last second moves out of desperation generally isn’t advisable for anyone, but in his case it’s been especially ghastly over the years..”
Evgeny Kuznetsov Gives The Capitals Secondary Scoring For the First Time in a Long Time (Published January 25th, 2016)
“The direct imprint he’s left on the Capitals juggernaut has been an obvious one. Just as important, however, has been the indirect byproduct of his emergence. More subtle has been the dilemma he’s presented opponents with. Unlike in past years, they now can’t devote the full efforts of their defense on attempting to shut down just the one line while blissfully ignoring the rest. If they negligently do so anyways, then Kuznetsov’s line will eat their secondary defensive options alive. But if they account for that and choose to play the Capitals straight up, that frees Ovechkin and Backstrom up, making their lives easier than they’ve ever been.
To be frank, this sort of luxury hasn’t been easy to come by for them over the years. Even when they were running all over the rest of the league as a team in the late 2000s, the supporting cast itself was really moreso passable than anything resembling notable. Dating all the way back to the ‘07-’08 season when Backstrom came into the league, there have been 9 different occasions in which a Capitals forward other than Ovechkin or Backstrom has reached the 50-point plateau.”
The Backdrop of Daniel Sedin’s Milestone Goal (Published January 21st, 2016)
“With that in mind, the dichotomy of the scene’s backdrop immediately following the goal itself was jarring.There was Daniel Sedin, celebrating an exemplary career milestone in a place that’s represented a personal haunted house no less, with the person he’s shared such an extraordinarily large number of the stepping stones culminating in that moment nowhere to be found. Instead it was Jared McCann, currently serving as the team’s number one center while Henrik licks his wounds, who was the first to embrace him for an accomplishment that’s been 15 years in the making. There was something incongruous about it. Though given the type of season they’re having as a team I’m sure they’ll take an occasion worthy of genuine elation like this one in any form they can get it.
From the outside, it’s hard not to view all of it as somewhat bittersweet now that we’ve had a few hours to process it. Much like they have since the moment they took the mantle from those that carried it before them the Sedins are doing an admirable job of fighting. Fighting not only on the scoreboard, but also in the way they’re publicly perceived around the league.
When we look back at their careers, what they’re currently doing in their age-35 season by dragging this particular supporting cast kicking and scream towards anything resembling relevance is near the top of their greatest accomplishments. They don’t quite have their fastball every night like they used to, but they’ve come as close to it as anyone could reasonably expect from them at this point in the game. Daniel, in particular, has been a revelation this season by bucking his recent downward spiral as a scorer. With his 21 goals this year he has already shattered his totals from the previous three seasons.
The issue is that regardless of their best efforts, they’re still ultimately toiling away on a team that’s far closer to being at the bottom of the league than the top as currently constructed. That’s something that’s hard to reconcile for a couple of generational talents, spending what could very well be their final truly productive seasons as part of an organization that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. It’s been a joy continuing to watch them play on a nightly basis, but given everything they’ve been and done for the Canucks, you can’t help but feel like they deserve a better fate than this.”
Canadiens Must Make The Best of a Bad Situation (Published January 20th, 2016)
“In a roundabout way, this bender they’re currently engulfed in could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Canadiens if handled properly. Even though you couldn’t help but feel like all of the juice would never quite be squeezed out of the orange under the watch of Michel Therrien, it was understandably a tough call to make such a drastic change when they were winning 50 games and advancing in the playoffs.
Now that they’ve been caught up in the perfect storm of misfortune, making the switch to a coach better suited to run the team over the long haul might be more palatable for that front office from a PR perspective given the fanbase’s desire for something to happen. Even if it means owning up to the initial mistake of extending him in the first place, rather than choosing to die on that hill by stubbornly compounding it.
Regardless of how exceedingly difficult it’s becoming to keep shouting it with all of current woes compounding, I’m still of the belief that this can be a pretty good hockey team. The things the Montreal Canadiens do poorly don’t result in a 94.8 PDO (a sum of team shooting percentage and team save percentage to measure “puck luck”).
They’ll get their most impactful player back into the mix sooner rather than later, and eventually whichever hockey gods they’ve crossed will forgive them for those transgressions. There’s still plenty time lift to salvage the year, thanks to the initial cushion they built for themselves early on.
That’s assuming, of course, that they use these doldrums in the meantime to their advantage, rather than becoming prisoners to it instead. Easier said than done, given everything that comes with the market they happen to be playing in and the hits they keep taking in the loss column.”
Can Braden Holtby Play His Way Into The Hart Discussion? (Published January 19th, 2016)
“In theory, a legitimately great goaltender playing at the top of their game remains the most valuable chess piece on the board. While the sweetest and most sustainable long-term music is made when all of the figurines up front are working together in perfect harmony, what separates the goalie from the others in importance as they lurk in the background is two-fold: they’ll essentially always be on the ice, and unlike with anyone else there’s ultimately only so much the rest of their teammates can do to shelter them.
Given enough time the puck will eventually expose a lousy netminder, while a dominant stopper will always give their team a chance to stay competitive regardless of how much quality (or more appropriately, lack thereof) there is in front of them. A goalie truly is the ultimate equalizer, either by mopping up mistakes and masking various flaws, or by submarining the efforts of everyone else. That’s not to say that there aren’t players at other positions who can markedly impact those around them, because there undoubtedly are, but it’s remarkable how much a goalie can single-handedly move the needle. It being the position whose performance we can project with the lowest level of certainty year over year is surely ironic, if not somewhat tragic.
The fact that the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association didn’t officially determine a goalie to be the league’s “Most Valuable Player” in the form of the Hart Trophy for over a decade shouldn’t obscure that. In between Jose Theodore (2002) and Carey Price (2015), we’ve been treated to some herculean efforts in the blue crease during that stretch. Nine of the 14 instances in NHL history in which a goalie saved at least 93 percent of shots he faced in a season, while appearing in a minimum of 50 games, have happened during that window of time (acknowledging that those are arbitrary cutoffs because people like nice round numbers, but aren’t meant to disparage seasons that just fell short like Ryan Miller’s .929 save percentage in ‘09-’10)..”
Jim Benning on The Trade Market and Exploring Different Avenues for Improving the Team (Published January 18th, 2016)
“I don’t want to put too much stock into this here because it’s still impossible to truly discern what’s reality, and what’s just good old fashioned posturing. Ultimately it’s smart to avoid backing yourself into a corner as a decision-maker, which is exactly what going out of your way to formally announce your intentions would double as.
What would be a concerning issue however would be if there were actually some truth to the rumblings we’ve been hearing recently. Like the one about the Canucks considering giving Radim Vrbata an extensionas a viable course of action. That would be a gross miscalculation of both the landscape and their relative place in it to say the least. While Vrbata’s stock has undoubtedly dropped thanks to his unfortunate shooting luck early in the schedule, it’s still easy to envision a contending team offering a pretty penny for his services as a rental come the deadline. With how tight the standings are league-wide because of the loser point, there are very few legitimate goal scorers sure to be available in trade.
Vrbata is one of them, making him even more enticing than he would be otherwise. Passing up a promising package of assets for a 35-year old given the current state of the franchise would be nothing short of inexcusable. The same goes for Jannik Hansen, even though he’s younger and still under contract at a completely reasonable figure.
While fans have been clamouring for the organization to fully embrace the tank and hopefully earn the right to draft a difference-making prospect, knowing when to cash in chips that are surely less valuable to you than they may be to someone else is another more subtle but equally important part of that rebuilding process.”
With Petr Mrazek The Reward Has Been Outweighing The Risk (Published January 18th, 2016)
“Maybe of more interest here is what the future holds for both parties. In taking full advantage of the spectacular play they’ve been receiving from Mrazek in net this season, the Red Wings have in turn boxed themselves into somewhat of a corner financially moving forward.
For both Mrazek and his bank account this breakout has been well-timed with him being up for a new contract after this year. The team retains a certain level of leverage in negotiations given his RFA status and limited track record at this level, making how they choose to proceed in structuring his next deal fascinating.
One option is to play it safe and give him a bridge-type two-year deal similar to what the Bruins did with Tuukka Rask before the 2010 season, and the Capitals did with Braden Holtby in 2013. The inherent risk taken in doing so is that Mrazek continues something resembling this run of play, and they wind up having to pay for it to an even greater extent the next time they meet to negotiate.
They could also lock him up for the foreseeable future, buying up some future UFA years for cheaper than the going rate on the open market. The issue with doing that is that we know the goaltending position to be one brimming with uncertainty on a year-to-year basis. Generally speaking, it’s not advisable to saddle yourself with a contract that could quickly become an albatross by handing it to a player that carries significantly more risk than his skater counterparts.
In Mrazek’s specific case, there’s also an argument to be made that we don’t necessarily know exactly what he is yet at this level. It typically takes ~3,000 shots from NHL shooters to gauge what a goalie’s true talent level is with any real confidence. Should he start a significant majority of their remaining games this season, he’ll still fall below that threshold for his career by the time the Red Wings need to make that determination.
Not that he’s given us even an inkling of a reason to believe he isn’t the real deal. Since being a rookie at the OHL level as a teenager, he’s pretty thoroughly dominated every single level he’s competed at (spanning six years and four different leagues). Not included below are his exploits at the NHL level, which include being 6th in overall save percentage since being called up for good last fall (.925 in 59 games, only behind Price, Schneider, Holtby, Dubnyk, and Crawford) and more specifically 3rd at five-on-five (behind just Price and Steve Mason).”
Keith Yandle Has Fallen Into The Rangers Blind Spot (Published January 14th, 2016)
“I guess the way the entire situation has been mishandled shouldn’t be all that surprising when it involves the same organization that willingly opted to let ace two-way standout Anton Stralman walk by handing his older, significantly less effective teammate Dan Girardi a six-year, $33 million extension.
While that initial misstep was inexcusable in and of itself, compounding it by continuing to feed that sunk cost heavy minutes despite mounting evidence that he can’t handle it in even a passable fashion is almost just as egregious. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, now history will likely repeat itself with Yandle (admittedly under slightly different circumstances, given the type of money he’s expected to fetch on the open market this summer).
If Yandle had been as vital a contributor to Alexander Ovechkin’s 498th career goal as Girardi was, he’d either be raked over the coals or fired directly into the sun. To be fair to Girardi, he himself rarely ever makes a mistake that glaring. He much prefers the death by a thousand cuts approach, using the blunt object that is repeatedly being hemmed in his own zone to bludgeon his team into submission over the long haul.
Based on how they’re utilizing their chess pieces on the blue line this season, so do the New York Rangers apparently.”
Parlaying a Dominant Regular Season into Playoff Success (Published January 12th, 2016)
“The old cliche of ‘there’s a reason they play the games’ is a groan-inducing trope that tends to be used as a crutch in place of meaningful analysis. But there’s still merit to it, in the sense that forecasting the playoffs is anything but an exact science. While the 82-game regular season is a marathon in which the cream generally rises to the top, the postseason is more of a sprint. As such any little unforeseen bounce of the puck or injury to a key contributor can change fortunes, throwing a monkey wrench in our expectations. That’s why we’ve seen 10 of those supremely successful regular season teams listed above crash and burn in the 1st round after being upset by opponents that looked discernibly weaker on paper.
Just like in ‘09-’10 when the Capitals, who led the league in nearly every single category, were bounced early by a Montreal Canadiens team riding the back of a hot goalie. Which is one of many reasons why either attributing all of the success or placing all of the blame on any one individual player, regardless of how bright their star shines, is an incredibly faulty mindset. There are too many things that have to come together at the right time for a team to be the last one standing, and many of those factors are out of a team’s control.
All a team can really do is put themselves in a position to succeed by hanging around long enough to reap what they sow. This version of the Washington Capitals may very well again come up excruciatingly short this spring, but that shouldn’t be conflated with something they’ve failed to deliver at this point in time.
With the uneven play by nearly every other preseason favorite out East, the seas look to have parted for them this season. By laying waste to the rest of the league in the manner which they have thus far, they appear as well positioned as any of those peers to finally jump over the hurdles that have tripped them up over the years. There’s a lot of season left, but so far, so good.”
Florida Panthers: A Tale of Two Seasons (Published January 7th, 2016)
“10 games most certainly does not a season make, but the fact that there are concrete fundamental changes that were made which coincide with the uptick in play is encouraging. If anything, it’s helped them take advantage of the opening created by a landscape filled with Atlantic Division teams that can’t seem to get out of their own way. Nary a team has been able to distinguish themselves from the pack, and that wide open nature throws an interesting wrinkle into their potential plans for the upcoming trade deadline. With an inordinately large percentage of current contributors looking for new contracts after the season, it’ll be fascinating to see whether they transition from potentially selling off parts to now addressing some of those issues lower down the lineup if they remain in the mix with their peers between now and late February.
Whenever a team goes on an extended run such as this one (on either end of the extreme, really) all hell breaks loose on the public perception front. It can be blinding, making it awfully tough to stay rational and maintain perspective. This is the just latest example of that.
The Panthers aren’t going to win every single game they play the rest of the season. They’re also not terrible. They’re somewhere smack dab in the middle there, as a team that can remain competitive and potentially string together enough wins between now and the end of the season to make a little bit of noise should some breaks go their way.
That’s a perfectly fine spot to be in, especially for a franchise that hasn’t exactly been flush with reason for optimism and excitement over the years. Having just the single playoff appearance to their name since the “Y2K” craze, this is a step in the right direction.”
The Impasse Between The Lightning and Jonathan Drouin (Published January 3rd, 2016)
“Where the two parties go from here will be an interesting storyline to follow. If 29 other teams weren’t inquiring about his availability prior to the trade request, they certainly are now. While I still think Steve Yzerman and his staff aren’t likely to panic and sell him for below market value, it’s not like we’re without precedent here. Despite the growing number of cautionary tales suggesting that giving up on a young, prolific offensive talent at this point of his career is almost exclusively a horrible idea, history repeats itself time and time again.
For an enterprising front office, this looks like one of those situations where you combine the assets you’ve been quietly accumulating over time to put together a package that may stop the Lightning in their tracks. A team like the Arizona Coyotes or Carolina Hurricanes, for example, who have drafted well and stocked up their prospect pool over the past couple of years would do take advantage of the corner Tampa Bay has been backed into. Considering the space they have on their books, they could potentially even sweeten the pot by taking on a bad contract or two to help Yzerman create space for the aforementioned medley of upcoming free agents.
Anything within reason is a worthwhile gamble for those organizations, especially if the possibility of turning a couple of quarters into a crisp new dollar bill really is there. The recent past tells us that’s the side of the deal you want to be on..”
The Jets Approach a Dustin Byfuglien-Sized Crossroads (Published December 28th, 2015)
“It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that how the next two months play out could be franchise-altering for the Winnipeg Jets. With quite possibly their two most important players both facing uncertain futures with the organization this summer, what the team looks like in the years to come will surely be shaped by the direction they choose to head in.
As such, it goes without saying that Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff need to approach all of their personnel decisions with the utmost care. Especially in the case of Dustin Byfuglien, who seems less likely of the two to be rewarded with the big contract he’s looking for if the rumblings are any indication. All of which presents a rather interesting dilemma to keep an eye on as the February 29th trade deadline approaches..”
Christmas Has Come Early For Some Under Mike Babcock (Published December 23rd, 2015)
“It’s no secret that a patient, long-term approach by the organization meant that this year would be a bridge season of sorts for the team. Still, even while keeping that watchful eye on the future the Leafs have managed to make the most of a couple of side projects under Babcock’s tutelage in the present.
As a convenient byproduct of the respectability and structure he’s instilled since taking over, he’s also rejuvenated a handful of assets that were either on their way out of the league or were at a low point in their respective careers after having been submarined by previous regimes. Despite not exactly having been blessed with a cupboard full of main roster talent, he’s been giving a master class on how to optimize assets by putting them in positions to succeed.
Going with the Christmas theme, the following players have benefitted the most from making it onto the latter part of Mike Babcock’s ‘Naughty Or Nice’ list. In no particular order..”
Things May Need To Get Worse Before They Get Better For the Canucks (Published December 17th, 2015)
“With just under 30 games remaining until the February 29th trade deadline, the Canucks have some decisions to make about how they’re going to approach the rest of this season. Taking a step back and evaluating your place in the league’s hierarchy in an objective, realistic manner is an equally difficult yet important thing for a front office to be able to do. It’s easy to see how they could look around at the pathetic Pacific division they’re in – which remarkably has only one team that has won more games than its lost thus far – and figure there’s an opening there to try and squeak into the playoffs, and make a few extra bucks.
That’d be a horrible miscalculation on their part. For a vast stretch of time now, the Canucks have far more closely resembled a team that’s in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes discussion than one which could make some noise in the playoffs. If anything, come the deadline they should be selling off veterans (particularly the ones that will walk this summer and next, like Vrbata, Higgins, Burrows, and Prust) for any assets they can cobble together from teams that are legitimate contenders. The worst thing they could do right now is deeply entrench themselves in that late 2000s Flames level of mediocrity where you’re not good enough to win anything, but not bad enough to help yourself get better moving forward.
More thorough beatdowns like the one they received at the hands of the Wild may prevent the team’s brass from deluding themselves and eventually reaching that conclusion. That’s ultimately a good thing, even if it won’t be pretty to watch..”
Putting The Marlies Success Into An NHL Context (Published December 16th, 2015)
“There isn’t just the one single foolproof method for building a successful hockey team. If there were, then everyone would follow that blueprint to a fault until it became outdated and someone ultimately came up with a new one to chase. While the NHL may be a copycat league, if everyone’s doing the exact same thing then it becomes awfully difficult to distinguish yourself from the pack. The key is to follow a couple of fundamental Do’s and Don’ts. Beyond that, it’s up to you to get creative.
The ultimate goal is to assemble as much talent as possible, by any means necessary. Ideally in a way that makes sense in the big picture with all of the pieces fitting together, but that only really comes into the scope after a certain point once you’ve already cleared a few hurdles. Spending big money on a big name from time to time can certainly put your incumbent collection of talent over the top, but the salary cap structure makes it inherently impossible to purely buy your way into success in terms of wins and losses.
That’s why we see the savvy teams take a patient approach, accumulating as many draft picks and prospects as possible over a length period of time understanding that not every single one will wind up hitting. Beyond just the raw number of assets, you’ll also need a couple of them to be of the very high-end variety. Those players typically come as a byproduct of a lot losing.
It’s easy to sit back and tell a team to take those lumps on a nightly basis for the greater good when you’re looking at it from afar, without a personal stake in the matter. It’s a whole other thing to be deeply entrenched in the process and still follow through with it properly while juggling a million other extenuating factors that make it difficult to stay true to the course along the way.
Fortunately for Leafs fans, the new brain trust in Toronto appears to be fully cognizant of that, and also appears to be up to the task. While the parent club hasn’t done much winning this season, you don’t have to look far to see the seeds that are being planted. It’s happening right in the Leafs’ backyard, with the Toronto Marlies..”
Matt Duchene, The Avalanche, And Putting Players in Position to Succeed (Published December 11th, 2015)
“There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled over the past couple of years lambasting the Colorado Avalanche. The wheels came off quickly and the fall from grace has been precipitous once they stopped benefitting from a string of fortuitous bounces. It’s been a comedy of errors the last year-plus, making it awfully easy for people to line up and take shots at them (both quite literally and figuratively, in this case).
It doesn’t help that much of it has been self-inflicted, as the guy pulling the strings — and for all intents and purposes the guy doubling as the current face of their franchise — has remained steadfast in his vehement dismissal of not even necessarily analytics, or advanced stats, but what are elementary hockey principles. While it’s understandable that the constant stream of snake oil being peddled in such a condescending manner can be off-putting for some, much of the criticism and backlash honestly comes from a place of disappointment more than anything else.
It’s frustrating to see so much potential and fun, young talent be squandered because of a combination of poor decision making both on the ice with tactical decisions and off of the ice with roster construction. At a time in which there’s perpetual conversations being had about how to increase goal scoring and generally make hockey a more viewer-friendly product for fans, the Avalanche possess the requisite horses to help alleviate some of those concerns. Instead, they’ve been stuck in mud, spinning their wheels, headed nowhere fast until there was a plan and direction in place.
The situation nearly reached DEFCON1 earlier this season when Matt Duchene’s name began to surface in trade rumors..”
Mike Hoffman’s Unique Rise To Stardom (Published December 8th, 2015)
“Many advances have been made in the way we see, think, and talk about hockey these days. The general discourse has gotten significantly more sophisticated, more thoughtful, and that can only be a good thing.
That hardly means we’re done growing, though. One particular area we still need to get better in as a hockey community is how we readjust our expectations and projections for players on the fly. The fact of the matter is that the collateral a player builds up for himself tends to stick well past its expiry date, clouding our judgement of their present day worth.
Whether it’s a prospect during the draft process, or an active player in the latter stages of his playing career, no one is exempt from it. If you’re a formerly highly regarded prospect, chances are that you’ll get a second, third, and maybe even fourth chance from various organizations despite mounting evidence that it’s just not going to happen for you.
If you’re a current player with a past track record for success in the league, you’ll likely reach a point in your career where you’re afforded a much longer leash than your play warrants. You’ll find countless examples of this across the league.
It works just the same in the inverse, too. It’s human to be initially dubious of a sensation you’re unfamiliar with. When a player unexpectedly bursts onto the scene and outperforms the expectations that have been instilled for them, the natural inclination is to be skeptical of how sustainable it is. Given the precarious position an executive or analyst can put themselves in by jumping to rash conclusions based on limited sample sizes, it’s more than understandable.
With that said, being able to apply new information as it makes itself available and adjusting in a timely manner is a particularly useful skill. Things tend to be fluid and ever-changing, which makes being able to pragmatically gauge what’s real while tuning out the rest of the noise a distinguishing quality during a time in which we’re all mostly working with the same data.
The Ottawa Senators are about to learn that first-hand the hard way, after how they’ve mangled the Mike Hoffman situation..”
Zdeno Chara: A Beast With Few Peers (Published December 6th, 2015)
“It’s remarkable that Chara, now in his 18th season in the league and 39th year on this earth (after migrating from whichever planet he did come from), is still able to keep getting it done to this degree. He doesn’t quite have the peak fastball that he used to possess in his arsenal, but that has hardly diminished the value he presents to the Bruins.
If anything, he’s as valuable as ever given the other options they have around him. Teams have talked about attempting to replicate the ‘Bruins Model’ which has proven to be successful over the years. While that’s fine in principle, it overlooks the simple fact that the primary reason it’s worked in Boston is because of Zdeno Chara’s transcendent ability to consistently erase mistakes and drag his teammates along for the ride.
No one knows how long will pass until we see another guy like him in this league. In the meantime, front offices will continue to overdraft and overpay for big, lumbering defencemen in a misguided attempt to capture lightning in a bottle like the Bruins did with Chara for all of these years.”
The Canucks Are Leaving Valuable Points On The Table (Published December 2nd, 2015)
“The Canucks have made a bad habit of leaving points on the table thus far this season. Last night in Los Angeles they padded their league-worst overtime record, adding yet another discouraging late game result to what’s becoming a rapidly growing list of such outcomes.
It’s more than just a worrisome trend to keep an eye out for by now, for a team that’s margin for error has been dwindling for some time now. The same tightrope balancing act they managed to parlay into a playoff appearance last year has left them out to dry in this go-around. Regression has pushed them off of that rope, and without a safety net around to cushion the landing they’ve fallen flat on their collective faces.
As we made mention of earlier, the Canucks were the beneficiaries of an abnormally high success rate in games decided by one goal in 2014-15. The sledding has been noticeably tougher so far this year in such situations. Those struggles have only been intensified by the fact that the 17 one-goal games they’ve participated in are tied for a league-high with the Wild. Minnesota, fortunately for them, has won 6 more such contests than the Canucks have..”
Once You Trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, He’s No Longer On Your Team.. (Published December 1st, 2015)
“One of my all-time favourite sports quotes was actually coined by a current Edmonton Oilers employee, and it went something to the effect of ‘people realize that once you trade Evgeni Malkin you no longer have Evgeni Malkin on your team, right?’ It’s obviously an overly simplified point, but that’s by design. It’s one that’s worth remembering in moments such as these.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is no Malkin, but he is the type of asset that a team should worry about parting ways with willingly. Should the Oilers pull the trigger on a trade involving him, he’ll no longer be on their team. That’s a problem.
It’s worth dropping a disclaimer here that all of these rumours are purely speculation or hearsay at this point. But typically where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the frequency and fervor with which things have been coming out recently suggests that the Oilers are at the very least mulling over making a splash trade. Ryan Rishaug, who’s proven to be a reliable source on these matters, stoked the fire today on Twitter..”
Bo Horvat’s Early Season Usage (Published November 30th, 2015)
“The Vancouver Canucks have embraced a youth movement of sorts in the early stages of this season.
To the organization’s credit, they’ve managed to at least make an initially successful foray into bridging the gap from one era to the next by getting a handful of their notable prospects some NHL reps. And they’ve done while remaining competitive.
The early returns on the youth influx have been rather encouraging. Jared McCann is amongst the team leaders in goals, Jake Virtanen has flashed the sort of powerful play both on and off the puck that may justify his draft position yet, and Ben Hutton has been a standout puck-mover from the back end.
If those guys have been given a chance to dip their respective toes in the water, though, then Bo Horvat has been tossed into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket.
Ever since the team’s de facto number two pivot Brandon Sutter went down with injury, Willie Desjardins has entrusted the 20-year-old Horvat with a markedly tougher, more onerous role than the one he thrived in towards the end of last season.”
Pavel Datsyuk’s Latest Magic Trick (Published November 27th, 2015)
“Unsurprisingly, the data that we have at our disposal spanning the past decade shows that the consistent control of territorial play is something that the Red Wings have made their hallmark. In the ten seasons under Babcock from ‘05 to ’15, they never finished worse than 9th in score-adjusted possession rate, routinely sitting in the mid-50s.
That just made the early returns to start the season all the more unbecoming. It was simply odd seeing them scrambling around in their own zone, bleeding shot attempts and scoring chances against at rates that were in the Colorado Avalanche stratosphere.
The one silver bullet they retained in the chamber was the impending return of Pavel Datsyuk, who missed the first 15 games of the campaign with an injury. Despite fully acknowledging his excellence, I have to admit that I was still somewhat wary of putting that much of an emphasis on one single player, and the ripples his impact could make across the team. Given that even the most heavily relied upon forwards play only rough a third of the game, that leaves more than enough time for the pre-existing issues to resurface and manifest themselves. There’s only so much ground one individual can cover, particularly one that’s in his late 30s and has a growing laundry list of nagging injuries that have been accumulating.
If the early returns are any indication it turns out that I was wrong, because Datsyuk’s established wizardry apparently knows no bounds. The splits for the Wings since he returned to the lineup on November 13th against the Sharks are night and day..”
3-on-3 Overtime: The Shooting Star of The Sports World (Published November 25th, 2015).
“There’s been ample deliberation so far this season appropriated to how the NHL can improve its on-ice product, making it more friendly for its viewers. With goal scoring continuing to crater all across the league, full-scale changes ranging from larger nets, to smaller goaltender equipment, to a stricter rule book being enforced have all at the very least been considered. While some of these adjustments actually seem to have some merit, there appears to be a case of missing the forest for the trees.
In some sense, the lack of goals being scored is certainly an issue. Goals tend to make for more exciting highlight packages that sports networks can use to potentially lure casual fans in. They also allow for a higher variance product, with an increased likelihood for lead changes keeping the specific game in doubt from start to finish. It’s comforting knowing that a game isn’t all but over the moment a team jumps out to a lead early.
The goals themselves should ultimately be the byproduct of a free-flowing, fast-paced game that allows its stars to consistently show off their immense skill and shine. How the NHL actually manages to accomplish that without completely messing with the integrity of the game (whatever that means) remains to be seen, though their past handlings haven’t inspired much confidence.
Yet for all of the widespread flak that the league generally draws for its decision-making, there’s one instance from the very recent past in which it’s done the right thing: pulling the trigger on making the switch to 3-on-3 overtime. Even if its integration was ultimately still belated, it’s tough to quibble with the early returns this season.”
How An Injury Could Turn The Jets Season Around (Published November 23rd, 2015).
“News broke today that the injury Ondrej Pavelec suffered over the weekend in a win against the Coyotes will keep him sidelined for at least a month’s worth of action, if not longer. While it goes without saying that no one should ever wish injury upon a player, this development may actual have an unintentionally positive trickle-down effect for the Jets moving forward.
Things haven’t necessarily gone as planned in Winnipeg to start the year, as they currently find themselves sitting in 6th place in the Central coming off of their first playoff appearance since returning four years ago. While much of that has to do with the brutally difficult division they reside in, it certainly doesn’t help that they’ve been surrendering goals by the bushel-full early on. Their 65 goals against on the year are the 3rd most behind only Columbus and Calgary, and the struggles for those two teams in net have been well documented.
Seeing as he’s been between the pipes for the majority of those games, the onus has to fall squarely on the incumbent starter for the team’s struggles. This unfortunately hardly comes as a surprise given Pavelec’s NHL track record. While there was some discourse that he’d turned the corner last season and finally realized all of that raw potential evaluators have been raving about for years, his return back down to earth this season makes his ‘14-’15 success look like more of a blip on the radar than anything else..”
Canucks Defencemen and Their Impact on The Neutral Zone Through 20 Games (Published November 21st, 2015).
“About a month ago now I introduced a project I’d undertaken this season which involved monitoring how defencemen were impacting the territorial battle that’s fought in the neutral zone. As a refresher that involves both their ability to defend their own blueline against incoming attackers, but also how effectively they’re able to transition the puck the other way as well.
The purpose of that initial post was mostly just to lay the groundwork and get some of the housekeeping components of the project out of the way. Now that we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the regular season schedule, it’s time to check back in. At this point, enough data has been accrued to get a relatively good picture of which players are holding up their end of the bargain, and which inversely which ones are weighing the rest of the team down.”
How The Penguins Can Fix Their Underlying Issues (Published November 19th, 2015).
“The dirty little secret is that the Penguins have been bleeding blue-line talent for a few years now, with the likes of Matt Niskanen, Paul Martin, and Simon Despres all having left the organization either through free agency or via trade. While it’s understandable that they balked at picking up the lucrative tabs on the first two names once they hit the market, the deadline deal that sent Despres out of town last year remains just as puzzling now as it was the moment it was announced. Those are three legitimate top-four defensemen who can contribute on both ends of the ice that they’ve yet to effectively replace to-date.
It’s showed. The Penguins have ostensibly had just one defenceman who can consistently and successfully transition the puck out of the defensive zone this season. It’s a shame that Olli Maatta suffered yet another trying setback with his health, because he’d been coming on as another option in this regard after a slow start. When I noticed how wretched they appeared in transitioning from their own end with a couple of casual viewings, I decided to follow up and track a pair of games…”
Justin Abdelkader’s Gratuitous Extension (Published November 12th, 2015).
“Twitter went ablaze on Wednesday evening when The Hockey Godfather let it be known that the Detroit Red Wings were close to locking UFA-to-be Justin Abdelkader up to a long-term deal. This wasn’t necessary a new revelation given that we’ve been hearing inklings about a potential extension for a while now, but the details themselves are so grotesque that the news produced a double take anyways.
Any way you slice it, there doesn’t really appear to be an uplifting angle for the Red Wings and their fans here, especially with it coming off of the heels of a summer in which teams generally seemed to have smartened up with regards to these sorts of transactions. I’m not sure if it was pride or admiration, but whatever it is, I felt it after nary a team backed up the Brinks truck for one-year wonder Matt Beleskey to the degree I suspected they might.
I don’t think that the Red Wings should get off scot-free here just because of the mystique they’ve generated as an organization with their sustained success in the past. This won’t end well for them.”
The Sedins are Still Winning the Battle Against Father Time (Published November 11th, 2015).
“There has seemingly been a lot of chatter floating around lately about how the NHL as a collective is getting younger. Whether it’s due to salary cap restraints or a changing game that generally demands more athleticism from its players than ever before, the fact of the matter is that teams are divvying up a larger portion of the pie to their more youthful assets.
We’re seeing that first-hand in Vancouver this season. While there’s room to quibble with how they’ve been used on occasion by the coaching staff, there’s no denying that the Canucks are embracing the league-wide youth movement with the quartet of players 22-or-under playing important roles for them early on.
Even with these philosophical adaptations by the organization, though, for the Vancouver Canucks everything still begins and ends with the Sedins. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The Renaissance of the Washington Capitals (Published November 10th, 2015).
“By the end of the ‘13-’14 season, things truly hit rock bottom. They missed the playoffs for the first time in years, ultimately leading to the firing of both their third coach in as many years and the guy that had been pulling the strings for nearly two decades.
As it turns out the organizational overhaul came at just the right time, because the perfect coach to right the ship fell right into their lap. While Barry Trotz is mostly known for the work he did with the Nashville Predators on the defensive side of things for all of those years, I suspect that label doesn’t fully do him justice as a bench boss. The best trait a coach can possess is the ability to adapt to his surroundings, and work with the hand he’s dealt.
In Trotz’s case he took over an expansion franchise in the Predators that was never really in the business of shelling out the type of money that high-end offensive options generally command on the open market. So while it would be disingenuous to suggest that his structure and defensive principles haven’t played a large part in Washington’s rebirth since his arrival, he’s also done a commendable job of striking a fine balance between offence and defence.”
The Oilers in the Wake of McDavid’s Injury (Published November 5th, 2015).
“What happened to Connor McDavid in Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers was a real punch to the gut. And that’s coming from someone who has doesn’t have anything resembling any ties or allegiances to the Edmonton Oilers franchise. Purely as a fan of hockey, it’s nothing short of regrettable that we’re going to be deprived of seeing and enjoying someone who has instantly become one of the most fun players in the league to watch for at least a couple of months.
While making ‘Auston Matthews to Edmonton’ jokes is low hanging fruit, I wouldn’t say that it’s all doom and gloom for the Oilers just yet. There’s still undoubtedly legitimate question marks surrounding their ability to keep the puck out of their own net, especially now that it’ll presumably be in their control less frequently without one of their best possession players around. And unless Leon Draisaitl can effectively transition out from his cushy role as the top line’s right winger and into a second reliable pivot for them, the options down the middle beyond Nugent-Hopkins leave a lot to be desired.
But that top line is so, so very good and maybe now that the blindingly bright light emanating from McDavid’s presence is temporarily out of the picture, Taylor Hall will get the recognition that his dynamite play warrants.”
Brent Burns: Offensive Defenceman (Published November 4th, 2015).
“It’s difficult to shake the memories of how dominant Burns was during his tenure as a forward spanning parts of two seasons stretching from 2012 to 2014. The tour de force showing he had on Joe Thornton’s wing was something to marvel at. Next to one of the game’s most gifted and established playmakers Burns quickly became one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers himself. In their one full season together during the ’13-’14 campaign, the Sharks as a team controlled 60.2% of all shot attempts and 63.6% of all goals scored at 5v5 when the dominant duo was out there. Given the esteem in which NHL teams hold “power forwards”, it seems odd that the Sharks would’ve willingly stripped themselves of one like they have since then.
Though maybe it’s just further reinforcement that a “puck-moving defensemen”, another prototype buzz word hockey types spit out frequently, is just as highly sought after. I’m of two minds when it comes to ‘Brent Burns, The Defenseman’. The aforementioned opportunity cost of not being able to utilize him as a force of nature up front next to your best player is certainly a sticking point. As is the double-edged sword of his freewheeling propensity for playing as a rover, which occasionally leaves him out of position and has surely led to his unseemly -18 penalty differential since the start of last season.
Still, I’m always a proponent of playing your best players as much as possible (at least until you start to hit the point of diminishing returns, Mike Yeo!). And there’s little doubt that Burns’ dynamic abilities are one of San Jose’s biggest weapons offensively. While he was playing nearly 24 minutes a night last season, that now pales in comparison to how much new bench boss Pete DeBoer has been relying on Burns early on.
His 25:49 average ice-time is the 5th highest total in the entire league, just behind fellow prolific blueliners in Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter, and Alex Pietrangelo. At 5v5, only Suter and Travis Hamonic are playing more.
The thing that pops off of the page for him more than anything else, though, is the ludicrous amount of shots he’s generating thus far.”
The Penalty Differential Market Inefficiency (Published November 3rd, 2015).
“Though the season is still in its infancy stage, based on the first month of play it appears we’re headed towards another slight dip in goal scoring all across the league. Whether it’s the rules, the groupthink resulting in conservative approaches by most teams, or a testament to the level of goaltending floating around, the trend is very much real.
In a world with a suppressed number of events and fewer goals being scored in general, the importance of finding hidden value to get a slight leg up on the competition is heightened even further. As the hockey community has progressed and developed with advancements in puck possession metrics and the such in recent years, its only getting trickier to identify and exploit these market inefficiencies.
One that isn’t necessarily new by any means, but still doesn’t have the type of traction that it likely should is penalty differential. Given that teams continue to convert on somewhere around 18% of their power play opportunities on average, the value of a player that can serve those chances up on a silver platter remains immense.
I should note that all of the following numbers are provided by the invaluable War on Ice, and that they are up-to-date through the November 2nd slate of games. To avoid any confusion, the penalty differential itself is just the number of times a player has drawn a penalty minus the number of times he has taken one. These don’t include coincidental minors, fighting majors, or situations in which the opposing team scored with the delayed penalty in effect. “
The Bravado Associated with One-Goal Games (Published October 27th, 2015).
“When the subject of ‘luck’ in hockey is broached in analytics conversations it generates a high rate of skeptical eye-rolls per 60 minutes.
Maybe it’s blissful ignorance or a desire to believe that hockey players have more control over highly variable outcomes, an illusion that I’m sure we’d all like to believe applies to our own lives too, but hockey fans tend to struggle with the idea that there are numerous chaotic factors influencing results beyond what on-ice talent can control.
The role of “luck” – good fortune, or whatever other nomenclature you’d like to use – in hockey is very real. Enormously so. It’s most commonly lumped under the “PDO” metric (the sum of on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage, which should, in theory, be hugging either end of the 100 plateau). While PDO has certainly been shown to be a useful tool in identifying outliers on either end of the spectrum, there are other applications for luck too.
One area that luck exercises an enormous influence is pertinent to the Vancouver Canucks, mired in the midst of a four-game home losing streak. It’s their success in one-goal games. Or maybe more aptly, a lack thereof.
After a strong start to the campaign, things haven’t gone quite as smoothly for the Canucks of late. They’ve failed to get a win in their last four games and while a small rough patch like that over the course of the 82-game marathon is inevitable, it does bring up an important distinction.
The idea that certain teams possess the inherent ability to buckle down when it matters most with the game on the line and channel their inner ‘will to win’ is nothing short of a fallacy.”
Breaking down Colorado’s Breakdown (Published October 21st, 2015).
“The Avalanche went on to lose this game by a 5-4 score, opening their season in absolutely fitting fashion. Just yesterday Patrick Roy put his foot in his mouth by saying that that he was more worried about the shots his team wasn’t taking as opposed to the ones they were giving up.
What’s the saying, missing the forest for the trees? The ironic thing is that it’s awfully difficult to take said shots when you never have the puck in the first place, as evidenced by their 37.1 score-adjusted possession rate (easily the worst in the league).
And while Roy also seems to think that Corsi may be flawedbecause it doesn’t account for where the shots are coming from, it’s worth noting that War on Ice also has the Avalanche currently giving up the most scoring chances against per 60 minutes (33.4), and having the worst scoring chance differential (-50).
The internet can be a useful tool.”
Top Lines Taking the League by Storm (Published October 20th, 2015).
“I think it’s safe to say that most hockey fans are generally aware of the most obviously dynamic top line combinations out there. Whether its Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in Dallas, or Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in Philadelphia, The Triplets in Tampa Bay or even The Not Your Average Joes in San Jose, there are some outright dominant units out there these days. If you’re cheering for the team they’re going up against, you’re petrified every time they hit the ice. If you’re an unbiased observer, you’re probably tuning in just to get a head start on that night’s highlight packages.
The aforementioned guys have been established for a while now, and have rightfully so earned their place amongst the league’s elite. But they’re also not the only ones putting in work this season. Through the first few weeks of the campaign we’ve seen a handful of newly put together, highly promising lines take the league by storm. In no particular order:..”
Canucks Defencemen Through the Neutral Zone (Published October 16th, 2015).
“As a hockey community, there’s no denying that we’ve come a long way over the past couple of years in our ability to evaluate the on-ice product. The advancement of possession metrics in that time has provided us with a more nuanced and sustainable way to differentiate between what’s important and what’s ultimately just background noise.
Still, the issues of variance that arise from both the sport’s chaotic nature and its team concept persist. For a hockey team to be successful it needs to be a well-oiled machine that has all of its parts moving in unison. Which means that even though we have something like WOWYs (With-Or-Without-You) at our disposal, it’s still tough to specifically nail down how much of a given sequence is attributable to one specific person.
That’s especially true for defencemen, who don’t necessarily even have the benefit of something as rudimentary as point production to truly prove their worth. Low-event defencemen who don’t happen to register notable counting stats yet manage to set the table for their forwards still tend to fly under the radar in most instances.
This is why I’ve decided to partake in a tracking project this season which will focus on how defencemen impact the neutral zone, both in terms of defending their own blueline and quarterbacking the attack going the other way. Building on the foundational work done by Corey Sznajder and others in the past, as the year goes along I intend on posting updates for not only the Canucks but also all 29 other teams (to provide league-wide context).”
The All-Hipster Team v2.0, Part 2: Defense (Published October 8th, 2015).
“It’s quite possible that Vatanen is already universally held in high enough of a regard that he shouldn’t be eligible for this list. Initially I wanted to use this as an opportunity to gush about him and Tyson Barrie, but the latter having finished last season as a top-10 scorer from the blueline unfortunately made him an instantaneous cut from this list.
While Vatanen himself already has an awfully productive campaign under his belt, I just couldn’t get myself to omit him, too. Ultimately this list is about shedding light on guys who are good at hockey and whose play warrants it.
I’ve been high on Vatanen for a while now, ever since he stepped into the spotlight and made a sudden impact in a playoff series against the Kings two years ago. What immediately stood out about his game was how silky smooth he was getting around the ice surface. At that time he was a sight for sore eyes for an Anaheim Ducks blueline that included the likes of Mark Fistric, Luca Sbisa, Ben Lovejoy, and even a Stephane Robidas cameo late in the season.
Even though their back-end is leaps and bounds better now, Vatanen still remains their go-to offensive weapon from back there. Amongst Ducks skaters only Ryan Getzlaf saw more time on the man advantage than him last season and with good reason. His 5.08 points/60 were 14th best amongst all NHL defensemen. He was doubly devastating when you consider how often he used his aforementioned skating ability to put the opposition in precarious positions ultimately resulting in penalties needing to be taken.
It’s not like he was chopped liver at 5v5 either. I’ll be very curious to see what he’ll look like there if he’s ultimately able to detach himself from the anchor that is Clayton Stoner at some point this season.”
Age, Size, and 23-Man Rosters (Published October 7th, 2015).
“One of the most archaic things you’ll still hear from hockey fans is the notion that you need to play a heavy, “meat-and-potatoes” style game as a team to succeed come the playoffs. A team like the Los Angeles Kings has had success doing so in years past, but I’d argue that it’s a classic case of missing the forest for the trees.
Sure, the Kings have been a big-bodied team, but the reason they’ve managed to be successful is because most of those guys have also more coincidentally (and more importantly) been extraordinary hockey players. Many teams have spent their time and resources giving opportunity after opportunity to individuals that may be impressive physical specimens but not much else in a misguided effort to replicate their success.
The idea that analytics-types such as myself favour smaller, more skilled players because of some sort of hidden agenda is simply just a straw man argument. The endless search for size is still a market inefficiency in hockey, and that’s why some much time is spent discussing it. While people are fetishizing size and looking for the next Milan Lucic, there are plenty of other equally productive players falling through the cracks because of whatever perceived limitations they may have in stature. One of my favourite Cam Charron-isms is the line about how ‘the net is bolted to the ground, so who cares how tall a certain player is?’
The Blackhawks and the Lightning are two of the 6 lightest teams in the league heading into the year. The Wild and Penguins aren’t too far behind. Let’s just keep that in mind this season.”
Projecting the 2015-16 Vancouver Canucks (Published October 6th, 2015).
“While the immense amount of variance and circumstance in hockey doesn’t lend itself all that well to cobbling together an infallible projection system, there’s still a seat at the table for statistical projection systems. Even if they just purely serve as a conversation starter or starting point of sorts. At the very least they can help remove confounding variables such as personal biases, even if they do admittedly have difficulty accounting for things like usage and changes in circumstances on an individual level.
One of these is Tom Awad’s “VUKOTA Projection System”, which essentially compares current NHL players to those from the past (dating back to 1967) with similar profiles in an attempt to predict their output for the coming season.
The fine folks over at Hockey Prospectus have provided me with the aforementioned projections which can be found in the latest installment of their well-renowned book, previewing the upcoming season in extensive detail. While there’s generally a plethora of worthwhile nuggets in there spanning the entire league, for our purposes here we’ll focus on the projections for the 2015-16 Canucks.”
The All-Hipster Team v2.0, Part 1: Forwards (Published October 5th, 2015).
“Looking back at the first edition of the All-Hipster Team, which ran all the way back in the middle of the 2013-14 season, I’d say that it was objectively a success. Sure, there are a couple of players that haven’t necessarily progressed into the mainstream like I thought they would by now, but that’ll happen when you take a leap of faith on a medley of players that haven’t quite yet distinguished themselves as notable assets across the league. For the most part, players that have made their way onto this list in the past have not only gone on to do big things but have also cashed in rather handsomely with their following contracts.
With a new season looming, it’s time to update the list. When putting it together, I made a concerted effort to single out players that I thought generally haven’t been receiving the sort of widespread love that I think their play warrants (or in some cases, will in the very near future once they truly blow up). That can be an awfully tricky task, though, because for the most part fans these days are far more knowledgeable and attentive than they’ve ever been. Given the coverage of hockey online on a day-to-day basis – particularly thanks to Vines and GIFs being passed around on Twitter on a nightly basis – it’s pretty rare that a dynamic player will truly slip through the cracks.
Which is why I recognize that even some of the guys discussed below will already have their diehard contingent of fans. Still, I hope that this list will contain some illuminating names, and draw attention to players that, prior to reading may not have been at the forefront of your mind. This isn’t necessarily a list of “breakout candidates”, as much as it a collection of guys that I think I’m generally higher on than most. Here they are in no particular order:…”