4/27/18 – Judging Performance From Single Data Points: Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs Edition

The Toronto Maple Leafs got bounced out of the playoffs in game seven the other night by the Boston Bruins. Everyone from Mike Babcock to Auston Matthews to Jake Gardiner is taking a lot of heat.

Gardiner sounded legitimately emotional after a tough night.

“Personally, I got to be better. A lot of this game is on me,” said Gardiner, the posterboy defenceman for risk-reward.

Gardiner’s voice quavered. Tears coated his eyes. He exhaled deeply.

“It’s just not good enough, especially in a game like this. It’s the most important game of the season, and I didn’t show up, so… there’s not much you can say really.”

Nick Kypreos got both Babcock and Matthews at the same time.

Last year, and going to this year, Matthews was the guy, and toward the end, Babcock lost Matthews. I don’t know what happened but he lost him, and there was no trust anymore. And then, Matthews can’t start a hockey game, and he can’t start a period, he can’t start a power play off a TV timeout, and for whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews, and that played a key part. Now, he’s injured, and that of course you have to consider, but I just watched [Matthews’] body language throughout the last few games here, and going into the regular season, and you’re sitting here going, ‘That’s more than the injury; something is not right here with Matthews,’ and I think that needs to be addressed as well.

If you were on Twitter prior to the past week you are already well aware of the general feeling of unwavering almost obnoxious optimism surrounding the Leafs’ Stanley Cup chances. Fast forward to game seven and a flawed team that didn’t have to fight very hard to get into the tournament got eliminated by a superior opponent.

And the world is now ending.

The star-level player the Leafs tanked so hard to acquire is being criticized hard, some of which is fair. The highly compensated coach brought in to instill a winning culture is being raked over the coals with people just now noticing that his teams haven’t done much in the playoffs in a while. And poor Jake Gardiner who was great all season is taking a bath because of one poorly timed bad game.

Nothing about sports is really black and white. Yet, when the Leafs drop one game to the Bruins now it’s time to question everything. What happens if they had won that game? Do those questions become less important? They shouldn’t become less important if they are legitimate questions, but I think we all know how that would have turned out.

Emotion can be a powerful motivator, good or bad depending on the circumstances. It clouds our decision making ability. A burst of emotion one way or the other can lead people to conclusions they wouldn’t make if they were thinking in a rational way. This one loss, at the end of an otherwise largely successful season, doesn’t undo what the Leafs did. It doesn’t tell us much of anything about the work Babcock, Matthews, or Gardiner did over the course of the full season. It’s simply one very visible data point out of thousands of pieces of data.

The Atlantic ran a story about the impact of emotions on decision making in late 2016.

Where fear breeds uncertainty, anger instills confidence. Angry people are more likely to put the blame on individuals, rather than “society,” or fate. Anger makes people more likely to take risks and to minimize how dangerous those risks will be. Other researchers have shown that angry people rely more on stereotypes and are more eager to act.

Emphasis added.

Sometimes bad things happen. Or, to quote Auston Matthews, shit happens.

Society always tends to want someone to be held responsible whether logic dictates that anyone should be or not. We need a pound of flesh to satisfy our anger and the most visible targets are the low hanging fruit we reach up to grab.

This is all pretty standard, especially in a market like Toronto. The older I get the more it irks me. I grow to loathe the phrase “sports is a results-oriented business” and all related iterations of it more and more every year. No shit? How many businesses aren’t results-oriented?

Results are always necessary, but part of the problem is that the only results anyone wants to focus on are wins and losses. Ultimately it’s only possible to win or lose a game, but the growth and development of everyone involved is a desirable result. It just isn’t something easy to grasp so it can be more difficult to gauge.

With the Dallas Stars seeking a new head coach this problem pops up. How do you compare the win loss record of Jim Montgomery with that of Sheldon Keefe? How much credit does Montgomery get for identifying and helping Johnny Gaudreau develop? Does Keefe deserve much credit for implementing a plan with the Toronto Marlies that seems to be more or less laid out by the big club?

The same problem arises in education. In courses that culminate with a STAAR exam the results of that exam are all that really matter to many people. Allegedly that exam has all of the information needed to see how good of a job a teacher did working with a student. K. Tell me what happens when a student is absent, refuses to take it, or finishes it in 30 minutes, or has a reading disability, or doesn’t understand the references made in a question.

School districts realized that made little sense so they shifted to “growth”. Then they realized most subjects don’t have STAAR exams so some teachers had to make up their own exams used to judge their own professional growth which was predictably gamed by some. Even now growth is measured between Geometry and Algebra or from World History (10th grade) to US History (11th grade) which…ok? Good luck with that.

Any one data point is going to be very unlikely to give a full view of the performance of an individual regardless of the industry. The STAAR scores of my student won’t say much about me. This one loss doesn’t invalidate Mike Babcock or Auston Matthews or Jake Gardiner. The win loss records of Jim Montgomery and Sheldon Keefe in lesser leagues don’t automatically mean either or both will be good NHL coaches.

Bill Peters likely would have been a fine hire for the Stars despite his NHL record. Many metrics work in his favor, and he didn’t have a choice about who the Carolina Hurricanes put in net. Keefe and Montgomery have a lot going for them too. Todd Richards or any of the other number of candidates will have their own selling points to push.

However the Stars decide to fill the vacancy we won’t be able to judge the hire for several years, and even then the win loss record will be a poor way to do it. Success is more than just wins and losses and the emotional response pulled out of a loss easily clouds our view of a coach.

Good process can lead to undesirable results. If the Stars follow a good process you can’t really ask for more. As Matthews said, shit happens.

 

 

4/20/2018 – Former San Antonio Iguana Bill Peters

Jim Montgomery and Sheldon Keefe give the Dallas Stars two very high quality candidates for their coaching opening. Neither one has any NHL coaching experience though, unlike our candidate today.

Meet Bill Peters, who is as of this moment the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. He has until Friday to opt out of his contract. It, uh, doesn’t sound like things are going well in North Carolina.

Bob2

Bob2

I think the words “hot ass mess” may apply here. I can’t imagine the Dallas job being wrapped up by Friday in any way, so it seems really unlikely that he will ultimately be the guy here unless Dundon fires him. Plus. it sounds like the Calgary Flames are close to finalizing a deal with him to bring the Alberta boy home.

Peters has a Texas connection though.

Carolina coach, Bill Peters, once ran the hockey program at the Crystal Ice Palace, the small ice rink in northwest San Antonio. Peters played one pro game, with the San Antonio Iguanas, and scored a goal and two assists as a replacement player. He drove the Zamboni and kept the palace running while his wife went to med school here.

One game? Replacement player? I needed more info.

The Alberta native also came to the Iguanas’ rescue one Saturday in January, 1995. With the team decimated by injuries and suspensions, the Iggies signed Peters to a one-game contract to play against the Dallas Freeze. San Antonio coach John Torchetti had planned to use Peters only as someone to serve penalties (which he did) to keep enough bodies on the ice, but then something crazy happened.

The Iguanas led 8-1 after two periods. With the game in hand, Peters took a regular shift in the third period and set up two goals and scored himself before the game mercifully ended, 12-3 San Antonio, an Alamo City record for most pro goals scored in a game by the home team.

One classy note on Peters’ goal… with time running down, Peters and Dale Henry came in on a 2-on-1 break. Peters passed to Hank who had an open shot and could have scored the hat trick, but instead he slipped a perfect pass back to Peters for Bill’s only pro goal.

This story clearly has nothing to do with his ability to coach at the NHL level, but I love it. The Zamboni driver who gets into a professional game in San Antonio while his wife is in medical school would be a pretty neat introductory story for the next head coach of the Stars.

That’s not happening though.

Peters will be a decent hire for someone, but as of 12 hours ago he was close to finalizing a deal in Calgary so the people of Calgary can introduce him. I just really liked that story, and the idea of deleting it simply because he’s going to the Flames didn’t feel right.

4/18/18 – Mooterus Rising

“It wasn’t until much later we found out that the lead designer had flunked out of school in an effort to become a gynecologist.”

A good joke is built up through the set up and leads into the punchline that gets you. I never would have even watched this video or gotten to the punchline after a minute and a half of set up without a number of people alerting me to it. This is exceptional. Thank you for your service.

 

The Dallas Stars have released a video with the word gynecologist in it.

I am almost certain that this is the first time they have ever referred to their own logo as the Mooterus, and I’m also almost certain this is the second reference the team has made to the logo since the jerseys were so abruptly sent out to pasture.

Look at these sweeping images of the Mooterus in all of its glory.

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A young Jim Lites makes a dizzying appearance.

Lites

Marty Turco made sure that he will live forever in gif form with his poor reaction to the Mooterus.

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Jussi Jokinen and Mike Modano seemed to deal with it just fine. Look how majestic it looks gliding across the ice for this goal.

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“As soon as we hit the minimum number of games the league was forcing us to wear them we had a bonfire.”

Anon

Not to be outdone by Turco, Brenden Morrow decided he wanted to live forever in a disapproving gif.

Morrow

I completely forgot the Ice Girls had their own Mooterus uniforms. Dear GOD.

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You may be asking “what’s wrong with the Stars using the word gynecologist in a video?”

The answer? Nothing!

I’m just surprised that they did it. The Stars are normally so conservative and risk averse. This video mentions the uterus AND a gynecologist. They poke fun at themselves with an anonymous man behind a face shield. Former players are even in on the bit showing their disgust of the Mooterus. In short, the Stars made a fun harmless joke, and it was good.

We’ve seen how much fun they can have in the arena over the past several years, but more often than not that personality doesn’t show on the outside. The Stars really went for it with this and it works. All too often the NHL takes itself way too seriously. When they do try to lighten the mood we get people like the Vegas Golden Knights dearly departed irritating Twitter manager. Content like this hits that sweet spot where no one has any reason to be offended and humor is maximized by a well written joke.

Even in a bad season it’s possible to have a little fun. It would be nice to see the Stars churn more stuff like this out over the next few years and embrace their history no matter how embarrassing it may be.

My day is made.

4/16/18 – Candidate Sheldon Keefe

Sheldon Keefe is the wildly successful 37 year old coach of the Toronto Marlies and formerly the Soo Greyhounds. In 500 games as a coach at the AHL and OHL levels Keefe has only lost 121 games outright.

Keefe is one of several coaches that we’ll look at who are getting labeled as “analytics guys”. We need to understand what that is and what Keefe brings as a coach to get an idea of what the Dallas Stars could be getting should they decide to pursue and ultimately hire Keefe.

The Toronto Marlies are awesome about getting videos on YouTube. They released a short video when Keefe was introduced as their new coach that gives you a brief glimpse into what he’s about now.

“I was an undersized guy that found my way into pro hockey and spending time in the NHL by working extremely hard and being relentless.”

He comes across as a very intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate guy every time I’ve seen him speak. There are tons of videos of him talking online because of the Marlies. Every one of his post game media scrums with the Marlies is on YouTube plus various other interviews.

What comes up in many of these earlier videos is his past and his connections to David Frost. I hesitate to even bring the situation up, but it’s bound to come up because of how crazy the story is, and a story as crazy as that one is bound to impact anyone involved.

If you want to read the full story, or as much of it as you’re likely to find, Gare Joyce wrote about it for ESPN. Katie Strang wrote a follow up for Deadspin.

Essentially, David Frost is a monster. The stories the reporters relay are often horrible. It boils down to an awful human being using a position of influence to take advantage of impressionable children. The story reached a crescendo when Mike Danton (nee Jefferson) tried to put an amateurish hit job on Frost.

Keefe fits into this story because he was very good friends with Jefferson. They were part of a squad known as the “Brampton Boys”. Both articles detail a little of what went on, but this one blurb from Strang’s piece is probably enough to give you the jist.

In 1996 Frost brought his Brampton Boys to Quinte, Ontario, a small town where he shacked up with several players, including Keefe and Tiveron, in “a dingy suite at the Bay View Inn.” There were reports of wild parties, puck bunny playthings, and bruised and sobbing players like Sheldon Keefe locked out of their rooms in their underwear on one of Frost’s angry whims. But the team had a rare winning season, and much was overlooked

That’s child abuse. God only knows what else went on, but speculating about that is wildly irresponsible. Needless to say, it was a bad scene that got worse over time when Jefferson ultimately tried to put a hit on Frost.

They were really good hockey players though, and Keefe was brash. He developed a reputation quickly, and he has had to repeatedly answer for it on top of all of the other stuff.

Damien Cox wrote an article about Keefe in 2015 detailing the second chance he got at hockey. One of the brash moments is so childish and immature that it’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

When they did win that OHL title, Keefe famously refused to shake the hand of league commissioner David Branch.

“This must burn your ass,” he sneered at Branch. It’s one of many things from that time he regrets.

This fight/scrum of his with now New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow shows a little of what he was all about too.

When you carry yourself like that on and off the ice people are inevitably going to look at you crazy. Being an asshole isn’t a crime. Being an asshole and “criminal-adjacent” isn’t a good look, especially in a sport like hockey where someone like P.K. Subban gets sneered at while being a giant humanitarian.

More from Cox:

Keefe has said publicly he broke with Frost many years ago, and a phone call “would not be welcome.”

[…]

Keefe was never implicated in any crime. But his reputation was thoroughly besmirched through those relationships, and when his NHL career died after 125 games, it seemed likely we’d seen the last of him in the game.

Joyce wrote a follow up later on catching up with Keefe where he discussed the closing of those connections further.

When was the last time you had any contact with David Frost? Keefe doesn’t have a good answer to that. He’ll estimate that it’s five years, but he can’t point to a specific time or an incident…He chooses his words carefully, drip-filters all emotion from his voice. “I don’t know exactly when but I can say that he didn’t come to my wedding and doesn’t know my wife. He has never met my kids. If he called me it wouldn’t be welcomed.”

If you listen to him talk about his background at all you can tell how much it weighs on him. He touches on the Frost stuff at 10:14 of this video.

In part two of this interview he lets us in a little more.

I really wanted to have the opportunity to create an identity for myself, and if that meant having to give up playing and get involved more in the hockey operations, coaching, where again I know you would have the opportunity, in doing that, to really deal with people, young people, and their families one on one, I felt strongly that would be the best way for me to separate myself from the past and all the noise that was all around me.

He strikes me as a guy who understands the perceptions of David Frost and anyone ever involved with him, but how much can he be asked to answer for how other people acted when he was a young teenager?

The only fair question is about maturity, and he shows an uncommon amount of thoughtfulness and honesty in every answer he gives in these videos. None of this should even remotely be an issue given his resume.

And that resume is pretty damn good. Quite a bit of it does revolve around analytics. Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager, and his boss, Kyle Dubas spoke about him at the 2015 Sloan Analytics Conference.

Dubas mentioned the transformation of his team during his second year with Sault Ste. Marie. The Greyhounds were controlling about 47 percent of the shot attempts in the first 30 games and improved to 57 percent for the rest of the season.

The difference? Dubas hired a new coach, Sheldon Keefe, who took over and was open to using the data Dubas’ small team was able to deliver.

One of the slides Dubas used in his presentation is a nice little bullet point for this story. That line is when Dubas and Keefe took over the Greyhounds.

What about that means Keefe is into analytics? Nothing, but everything else written about him shows that he is. From the Cox piece again:

Heavily influenced by Dubas, formerly the Soo’s general manager, and his belief in the wave of analytical thinking sweeping over the sport, Keefe has produced a thinking man’s hockey team that relies on skill and speed less than muscle and aggression.

Given that he wasn’t that kind of player himself, the transformation is fascinating.

“I was able to put up good offensive numbers, but I was very much a straight-ahead player who relied on outworking opposition, not a guy who saw the ice particularly well,” Keefe says. “I relied on hard work, was probably over-reliant on physicality and being a pest.

“I’ve changed my outlook on the game quite a bit over the past few years.”

It wasn’t an immediate change though. As Dubas relayed to Lance Hornby.

Dubas laughed at the memory of blank looks he received from Greyhounds coach Sheldon Keefe when he first started talking about analytics. Now the team is competitive and he says Keefe is a believer.

[…]

“It took a long time to get through in Sault Ste. Marie and it’s not even close to perfect. You have to eliminate some of the noise and present the data that’s best going to help the team, whether it’s scouting, strategy or lineups. It’s trying to have everyone get on board and that takes a lot of time.

The “idea of analytics” isn’t just numbers floating into the ether, but actionable data that can make an impact. Dubas had to get Keefe to buy in, but then Keefe had to get a bunch of kids to play the way they needed to play to make the data turn in their favor.

Stories like this from Blueshirt Banter show how that process happens.

I was told a story recently where Keefe had to spend time in training camp with new players and force them to unlearn cliche concepts of getting pucks deep and making safe plays. Keefe wants a team that values possession of the puck. His teams execute breakouts so well, and do not punt the puck when under pressure in the neutral zone.

When Dubas hired him to take over the Toronto Marlies the idea was to bring those same concepts to the AHL. He wasn’t hired to focus on wins and losses, but specifically player development.

Like many clubs around the NHL, the system the Marlies and head coach Sheldon Keefe employ is virtually identical to what the Maple Leafs are doing at the NHL. But the Marlies take it a step further, structuring team meetings the same way. They attempt to replicate the environment a player will encounter should he make his way to the NHL.

“We spent a lot of time on development,” said Zach Hyman, who spent 59 games in the Marlies in 2015-16 before being promoted to the Leafs full time, and is now riding shotgun with Auston Matthews. “We have great player development people there that helped us work on things when we weren’t playing games.

“With the Marlies, they do everything that the Leafs do, and it’s an easy transition when you get called up. You know what you have to do, you know when the meetings are. You know everything. So that helps a lot.”

A few thoughts here. We’ve already seen the strong background Keefe has. We now know that he’s running the Marlies in the almost exact same manner as one of the most respected coaches in league history is running the NHL club. So if you’re big on NHL coaching experience, that seems to check that box.

More importantly, let’s take a moment to reflect how poorly the Stars have developed their prospects over the years. Rarely do you find a player joining the professional ranks with the Stars who blossoms. Development was Keefe’s primary objective with the Marlies, a team who in the last three seasons has put up two of the best seasons in AHL history.

The Leafs inevitably have a Red Wings influence to developing prospects.

“A lot of times in the NHL, we get them here before they’re ready and they get no confidence, and then we’re not happy with them,” Babcock said Thursday before the Maple Leafs defeated the New York Rangers 4-0 at Madison Square Garden. “If you get them here when they’re overripe, they’ve got a better chance of staying, and being confident players and scoring.”

As annoying as that paragraph is going to look for anyone following the Stars, it’s actually working in Toronto because they are actually developing their players because the Leafs are #ActuallyGood at it. Sheldon Keefe deserves a lot of credit for that development.

It works because from top to bottom the organization is on the same page. The Leafs draft players to fit their system who then go to the AHL and live life as Maple Leafs while being coached up by a man who has completely bought in. If you’re the Stars, don’t you want to bring a little slice of that set up into the fold here too?

The Marlies run the exact same system as the Maple Leafs. They play fast and try to keep possession of the puck. The modern game they play fits the ideas laid out by Jim Nill when he stated what he’s looking for in a coach. It doesn’t hurt that the Marlies keep staying near the top of the league in 5v5 Corsi either.

Back to that Cox story once more:

“I don’t take a lot of time to reflect, just keep pressing on,” Keefe says. “But there are times when I stop, think what I’ve gone through, think about what I’ve overcome, and been grateful for opportunities people kept giving me despite all the baggage I carried with me that would have prevented most people putting themselves out.

“Much of my motivation on a daily basis is to prove those people right.”

His strong history of player development and implementation of analytics combined with impeccable results make him a prime candidate for any opening in the NHL. He’s going to get the chance to prove those people right really soon most likely. He would be quite the bold hire for a risk averse organization, but if the Stars truly are looking for a young forward-thinking coach with a track record of success they probably aren’t finding a better candidate.

4/15/18 – Candidate Jim Montgomery

Apparently the net is going to be cast wide for a replacement for Ken Hitchcock. At this point just about anyone with a viable claim to an NHL job has been mentioned as a candidate. It’s going to be overwhelming for anyone trying to reasonably get a handle on where the Dallas Stars might go.

The plan here is to profile as many of the leading candidates as possible. In Sean Shapiro’s story for The Athletic Jim Nill laid out a little bit of what he wants in a coach. It sounds like he wants what he wanted when he hired Lindy Ruff: tempo, speed, and puck possession. At this point it should be clear that Hitchcock wasn’t a Nill hire so it should come as no surprise to see the pendulum swinging back to what Nill ideally wants.

Enter Jim Montgomery, the first candidate to be featured at Mooterati.

Montgomery had a 122 game NHL career that concluded with one game with the Stars in the 2003 season. His Wikipedia page has a few fun notes about him. He was once traded for Guy Carbonneau then released by the Montreal Canadiens after playing five games. He is also credited as the man who dubbed John LeClair, Eric Lindros, and Mikael Renberg the “Legion of Doom”.

Neat.

What sticks out to me about Montgomery’s playing career is that he could really score. A lot. But, not in the NHL.

For the University of Maine, Montgomery registered 301 points in 170 games. That’s just absurd. In his final college season at age 23 (older, yes) he played with a rookie named Paul Kariya who had 100 points. Montgomery had 95.

(Garth Snow and Mike Dunham were also teammates, for what that’s worth.)

Every year Montgomery played in the AHL or IHL he was a dominant offensive force. In 530 career games he scored 554 points. He strikes me as a guy who would have gotten more of a shot to produce in the modern era with eye popping minor league numbers like that. He isn’t a big guy either, listed at 5’10 and 170 pounds. Time on ice data is scarce until the last little bit of his NHL career, but it’s safe to say he never got much of a shot to produce.

His first head coaching job after his playing career ended was leading the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL In his first year he got his hands on Johnny Gaudreau, the under-sized star of the Calgary Flames and 2018 Team USA Olympian.

In 2015 Gaudreau was quoted by Terry Frei of the Denver Post in a story about Montgomery heading into the NCAA Tournament:

“He really, really helped me out because he’s a smaller guy, too. He’s a great guy. He taught me about things you have to do in the game as a smaller player, and really helped me to get ready for the NCAA and then eventually to come on to the NHL. I think he was one of the coaches who helped me out the most.”

Gaudreau said Montgomery, who played 122 games in the NHL, “played back when it was a lot tougher for smaller guys in the league. He just taught me to down low, make sure I’m moving my feet and stuff, and keep my head up and make plays. He was really good for me there.”

Vice Sports did a feature on Gaudreau during his rookie season too. Montgomery was featured in it significantly. The focus is Gaudreau, but Montgomery is such a big part of the story that it works for our purposes here.

Gaudreau landed in the perfect spot when he left home before his senior year of high school and joined the USHL. Montgomery, his coach, had been an undersized player, too, playing parts of six seasons in the NHL despite being just 5’10”.

Guy Gaudreau believes it was the right fortune for his son.

“There’s coaches out there that would never have given him a chance,” he said. “He’s too small—there’s no need for him.”

Montgomery would go on to discuss what makes Gaudreau special.

“Johnny’s greatness—and it holds true at every level he’s been, including the NHL—is creativity and the ability to create time and space. The way he can read opponents’ sticks, hips and knees, to be able to go the other way on them allows him to do things that people didn’t think were humanly possible at his size in the NHL.”[…]
“He thinks the game and does things on the ice that not many players maybe outside of Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk have the ability to do,” Montgomery said. “To say he’s a genius—and I’m talking just his creativity—people don’t understand how he keeps people back off. Because he doesn’t look like he’s a great skater but he’s almost like an aeronautical engineering genius on the ice because he understands triangles and he understands cutbacks.”

It seems pretty clear that Montgomery “gets it” offensively. Put your skilled players in a position to succeed and let them do their thing.

I just thought this was funny.

Montgomery coached Zemgus Girgensons with Dubuque also. I found this interesting from a USA Today piece as Girgensons was getting fan love for the All Star game a couple years back.

“What I said was, ‘Well if he is a third-line player, then you are going to win four Stanley Cups in a row,” Montgomery said. “His offensive game will evolve as his game matures.”

Montgomery always made his players fill out a goal sheet before the season and Girgensons always wrote that he would never “give up” or be “outworked.”

“And it’s true,” Montgomery said. “I saw him score a hat trick on a high-ankle sprain. When we won a championship, he was 16 and on the first shift of the game, his line started, and the way he skated, I said, ‘Oh, we are winning tonight.'”

With Dubuque he was finding the talent as the GM as well as coaching. Gaudreau and Girgensons fit the level of work ethic he pretty clearly wants. I like the goal sheet he had them fill out. I doubt that’s something that is done with professionals, but I like that effort he took to help his teenage players grow as adults. That’s the type of thing someone truly interested in teaching and developing would do.

At the University of Denver those attributes seem to be on display even more. The one consistent thing you hear about him and his Denver clubs is about how good the locker room is and how much the players love each other.

Two of the prominent players from his Denver teams were Will Butcher and Danton Heinen. Butcher refused to sign with the Colorado Avalanche after completing his college career, then promptly had 44 points as a rookie defenseman with New Jersey. Heinen has been great for the Boston Bruins, registering 47 points of his own while being good defensively.

Denver still has Henrik Borgstrom producing. He was the Florida Panthers first round draft pick last year. Anaheim Ducks pick Troy Terry produced at a similar level on his wing. I think the point is pretty clear by now. Montgomery develops and nurtures offensive talent on top of the locker room stuff you hear so much about.

If you’re the Stars isn’t that exactly what you want? Don’t you want someone like Montgomery to work with Jason Dickinson, Val Nichushkin, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov? How about Julius Honka and Miro Heiskanen?

The anecdotal stuff is fine, but how does he do it? What does he do that would translate to the Stars?

I pulled these gifs from Denver’s NCAA Tournament matchup with Ohio State in late March. The entire game is on Youtube. I planned to sit down to watch the entire game, track it, and make gifs throughout. I watched half of the first period and realized I’ve seen this before.

Denver is in the dark uniform. Notice how they circle back to look for a good opening to create an offensive opportunity. Puck. Possession.

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They control their own blueline. In the 14 minutes or so I watched Denver forced 15 dump ins by Ohio State. They never allowed Ohio State to enter the zone with a pass, and only allowed them to carry the puck in three times.

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Defensemen are key to what Montgomery does. They skate. They pass. They get the puck out of the zone, usually with possession. They exited the zone 22 times in the stretch I tracked. They only dumped it out four times. Nine times they carried it out and another nine times they exited with a pass.

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More of the same:

EasyExit

I don’t know who this is, but watch the Denver player confidently skate the puck out of the zone through two Ohio State attackers.

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Ohio State does adjust later and start generating more chances, but Denver hockey is pretty straightforward. Their previous game against Penn State is online too. It’s more of the same, but a quicker pace given that they are playing a weaker opponent.

Denver hockey is about keeping possession of the puck. Denver had a 56.5% Corsi For percentage in the 2018 season. The defensemen drive the play away from their own end. Butcher won the Hobey Baker under this system. How do you think John Klingberg would look? Or Julius Honka?

I can’t help but watch the Denver defensemen and think of Heiskanen.

CoastToCoast

Montgomery has been successful at every level. He was a dominant offensive player everywhere except the NHL. He has a proven track record of developing high end offensive talent and maintaining a close-knit locker room. His system looks like what you see in the modern NHL, and the Stars projected defense corps fits very well with it. Anything can happen in an interview process. There’s no guarantee he would be interested in the job or that the Stars are pursuing him, but you could do a lot worse than Jim Montgomery.

4/12/18 – Letting Go of Kari Lehtonen

Arguably the most value the Dallas Stars have gotten out of a first round pick in the last 20 years is Kari Lehtonen. Since Jarome Iginla in 1995 the most significant first round picks for the Stars have been Brenden Morrow, Matt Niskanen, Steve Ott, Radek Faksa, Val Nichushkin, and Julius Honka with some Jamie Oleksiak, John Erskine, and Mark Fistric thrown in.

Miro Heiskanen should add some luster to that group. Who knows what ends up happening with Nichushkin or Honka or, really, even Faksa. Ott was a fan favorite, but not particularly good. Niskanen, for all he has ended up doing, didn’t do much of it in Dallas.

So, that leaves Morrow as easily the best first round pick the Stars have made since Iginla. They drafted Morrow 21 years ago. When Joe Nieuwendyk (speaking of Iginla) flipped Ivan Vishnevskiy to the Atlanta Thrashers for Lehtonen he pulled value out of what would have otherwise ended up being another wasted first round pick.

It isn’t much of a stretch to see him as the most value they’ve gotten from a first round pick in twenty years. Lehtonen has given the Stars 445 games, including 422 starts with a record of 216-150-50 which is good for a .912 save percentage and  2.63 goals against average.

And now, he appears to be moving on.

 

Lehtonen has taken a lot of shit in his time in Dallas, but to take a lot of shit in one place you inevitably have to be there for a long time. Lehtonen is second in games played and wins to Marty Turco by about 50. For all the shit he took, he’ll likely finish his Stars career .001 ahead of Turco in save percentage.

The Stars franchise save percentage list is fascinating. For goalies with over 50 games played in Dallas Ben Bishop leads the franchise at .916, followed by Lehtonen at .912. Turco is third at .911 and tied with Roman Turek. Ed Belfour slides in at 5th and .910. You could have given me 25 guesses and the names on this list and I wouldn’t have put them in the correct order before attempt 22 at best.

*It has been determined that Gump Worsley actually leads the franchise in career save percentage. Thanks Erin.

Kari is a complex figure in Stars franchise history. For being around as long as he has Lehtonen hasn’t been involved in many franchise defining moments. He’s been more “moment-adjacent” (at best). The biggest stage of his career in Dallas was game seven against the Blues in 2016 when he gave up three goals on five shots. The main memory I’ll have of Lehtonen is being the primary or split starting goalie for nine years of a decade long stretch of (mostly) franchise futility.

I hate that I feel like that. I know it’s unfair to a player who has 400+ games with the franchise. During my Dark College Period I didn’t watch much hockey so I think Lehtonen is the goalie I’ve seen play the most. And yet, most of my memories are of futility so that futility clouds my thoughts of Lehtonen.

How much of that futility is his fault?

I think of Carey Price putting mediocre Montreal Canadiens teams on his back and dragging them into the playoffs when they otherwise had little business being there. Lehtonen never forced the Stars to ride Eric Nystrom, Radek Dvorak, or Trevor Daley defensively. How is it fair to think less of Lehtonen for not being able to be a superhuman like Price and drag his team kicking and screaming into the playoffs?

I think of someone like Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cup rings with the Detroit Red Wings. No one thinks of him as a God, but you will rarely hear anything negative about him because what’s the point? He has three rings. Clearly he did enough to not ruin three championship caliber teams, and at the end of the day that’s all an elite team really needs. Just don’t burn the house down guy.

Lehtonen’s negatives stand out more because he wasn’t the driver of success or failure throughout most of his time in Dallas. He was always just there.Those guys rarely pull in tenure like Lehtonen did. Those guys don’t often get treated like franchise cornerstones by overzealous front offices. Kari was never a Carey Price or a Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s been paid pretty close to what they’ve made, and that comes with heightened expectations Lehtonen was never going to meet. He was here simply to not burn the house down while being paid like he was well above average. If he makes Antti Niemi money no one bats an eye.

I think in framing the Dallas Stars career of Lehtonen it’s important to keep in mind what was in front of him. Lehtonen never consistently had the team in front of him for him to have a chance to be on a bigger stage (2016 notwithstanding), and he was never a big enough talent to force them to get there either. Lehtonen was a decent goalie who found a home on a team going through their most unsuccessful stretch in franchise history, and because of that longevity he’s going to live on in Stars history for a while.

Pat-Mortems, On Fallen Stars and Spun Tires

I’m not sure what the final, over-arching narrative for the 2017-18 Dallas Stars should be.

Here is a team that improved in many ways on the fatal flaws that kept them out of the postseason last year, yet will come up short of the playoffs yet again in a more spectacular fashion. That quality robs us fans of an easy scapegoat, an obvious flaw to point to and focus on fixing this offseason.

I’ve heard many complaints leveled by Stars fans this season and observed the scatterplot of blame forming over time. And I tend to agree with many points, some of which I will address as we go on here. But the range of problems highlighted by critics is almost more worrisome than the problems themselves. The idea that this Stars team was close to contending for a Stanley Cup seems shattered, and I feel a little foolish for ever believing it.

The thrill and anticipation that we felt when we saw the playoff window open has worn off; the franchise and its fanbase hasn’t gotten close enough to feel ready to dive through, yet we could’ve sworn we just saw the frame nudge a little lower and our momentum doesn’t seem to be accelerating at the same pace as our rising anxiety.

tl;dr: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I’ll continue this train of thought in a second, but first: a few caveats.

I’ve been swamped the last three weeks, and given the choice between a free evening of relaxation or watching a hockey team circling the drain … well …

So my postmortems on this team focus on the macro level based on what I have watched and worried about this year, not the micro of how the team has been coached, utilized or otherwise as the season died on the vine. This is all stream-of-consciousness and quite long, so go get some popcorn, I guess?

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I visited a site over the weekend for the first time in ages: Tankathon.

If you’re visiting Tankathon, you might be a sad sports fan. So you visit Tankathon in search of some hope this season of pain could be worth it.

And on the third spin, the Stars jumped from 13th overall to 2nd overall.

I remembered that was possible! Holy cow. Dallas and Philadelphia jumped into the top three out of nowhere last year.

And whereas the three best players last year were ordered: forward (Hischier), forward (Patrick) and defenseman (Heiskanen), the top three this year should be defenseman (Dahlin) and forwards from there. If the Stars get lucky and jump into the top five, they’ll have a shot at, Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom.

Outside of Wahlstrom, it’s not a stretch to imagine the first three making an impact at the NHL level next season.

What a gift! The Stars lack dynamic depth scoring and could find some difference-makers as soon as June. I got excited.

And then I remembered the two men running this team and nihilism set in again.

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It seems to me, in retrospect, that Jim Nill inherited a moribund franchise with a vacant prospect pool and never really altered his management philosophy when it came to development.

That philosophy being: we are going to play the most NHL-ready guys every single night, without fail.

That’s great as long as you’re a team on the cusp of Cup contention and can’t afford to have a young guy or two falling behind every night. But when, exactly, have the Stars been that sort of contender under Nill, chock-full of proven players? I’d argue never.

It’s why guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Stephen Johns had to duke it out for two seasons over one measly roster spot. Loser #1 gets banished to the press box for days or weeks at a time. Who knows. We’ll let you know. Loser #2 gets banished to Cedar Park for a month, maybe, until Winner and Loser #2 get injured and you get your one-game tryout to prove you’re NHL-ready.

Meanwhile, Noted Norris Trophy Winners Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski were anchoring the Stars’ top d-pair. For years. In 2015-16, Johnny Oduya played every game and the Stars added Kris Russell while Oleksiak and Johns played less than 20 apiece. Apparently, the two youngsters hadn’t grown enough playing ~8 minutes a night. Shocking

Kris Russell will save us.

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Dallas made the playoffs that year, which might’ve reinforced this approach for Nill as the logjam at defenseman continued to grow.

Let me say, though, that I don’t think any of the Stars’ prospects battling for time are or were especially ground-breaking. Most of the last decade of draft picks in Dallas have ended up as low-ceiling players at best, and I think there’s a deeper issue with the Stars’ scouting in general.

But Nill’s “NHL-ready or over-ripe” philosophy needed to bend a little considering the fringes of contention the Stars have continued to occupy since his tenure began. I had hoped that would change after Val Nichushkin got a long run and Devin Shore got an extended look last season.

But then he made a coaching hire that doubled-down on his philosophy. Hard.

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I don’t hold much reverence for Ken Hitchcock. (I became a hockey fan in 2008, well after his time here.) I was not overly impressed with the contention arc of his St. Louis teams, or the poisonous way his run ended there. But I knew he could coach defense, and I knew that was the biggest issue plaguing the Stars the last few seasons.

The issue of tactics and systems can be left to fans who watched games closer than I did this year. I’ll stick with developmental philosophy for the moment. And I think Nill’s inability to bend his philosophy to his team’s actual standing among playoff contenders was reflected in hiring Hitch.

Hitch is not here to foster a young team like Mike Babcock did in Toronto. He has admitted his time in the NHL is running short and he was brought in here to win. Now. And his player selections are going to reflect that urgency, especially if he feels like his job is on the line. (Like after the longest losing streak in franchise history kills their playoff hopes, for instance.)

I don’t think Hitchcock is risk-adverse. I just think he’s mistake-adverse. And that’s why he was a natural fit for Nill, who loathes to bring prospects to the NHL level until he’s sure they’re not going to make mistakes very often. Maybe that worked in Detroit. I don’t know. It’s certainly not working here.

I read Mike Heika’s chat the other day, and one Q&A moment made me want to scream. Not at Mike, mind you. He is a lovely human being.

Q: What does and doesn’t work in Hitchcock’s scheme in your opinion?

Heika: He has his players and he trusts them. The ones he doesn’t trust have to earn his trust, but they have to do it while playing a smaller role. Basically, he’s trying to win every single game, so the opportunity for development isn’t there. Otherwise, I like his approach of defense leading to offense. I think that approach can win in the playoffs.

Impossible. And oh-so-familiar. Could Jamie Oleksiak have grown into a trust-worthy defenseman if given enough leash to work through his mistakes? Maybe. The flashes were there. Just like they were with Val Nichushkin, who fell into Lindy Ruff’s doghouse and departed to Russia where he could actually … well, play hockey and grow.

Nichushkin is coming back and could be NHL-ready to Nill and Hitchcock’s tastes. But outsourcing your developmental process does you no good in the interim.

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I’ll be honest: I don’t see anything special about Jason Dickinson. He can skate! Sure. But nothing I’ve seen from him tells me he can be an offensive answer for this team. Same goes for Devin Shore. Same goes for Denis Gurianov (so far). And Riley Tufte, to some extent.

The only two forwards in the organization I have strong faith will actually become valuable offensive contributors are Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson.

I used to have that faith about Julius Honka, but now I’m not so sure. He doesn’t play a lot under Hitch, but when he does … I ask where that flashiness and dynamic ability is that I heard so much about.

Then I wonder if I’m just not seeing him play enough to see it. Then I wonder if the crumbs of ice time Hitch gives him and the fear of a quick deportation to Cedar Park has coached the substance out of his game.

Then I wonder if the Stars’ brass has asked these same questions and worried at all about the long-term health of the franchise. If you can’t evaluate a player’s true potential because you just won’t let him play at the highest level enough, then what do you do?

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I think the answer is laid out already thanks to the Oleksiak and Nemeth departures: He’s gone. He needs a change of scenery.

It sounds like Jason Spezza is good as gone this offseason because he and Hitchcock didn’t get along well (not my sources, just the vibes I get from people who talk about the team) (spoiler: I have no sources). That’s a scary precedent set for a veteran, much less still-developing prospects. We already know young players will get benched inside of Hitch’s doghouse. Could they be exiled as well?

I think that’s the danger of hiring a coach who wants out of the game within two or so years. You set your window to win that narrow and his decisions will always be in the short-term interest of the franchise. Because that’s in his best interests. Humans are a remarkable species, but we haven’t been able to tame that whole self-preservation instinct yet.

Here’s a GM of a team that I think is about on par with the Stars in terms of being a contender talking to Elliotte Friedman this week:

15. Panthers GM Dale Tallon said his team, still battling for the playoffs, won’t be creeping up in average age any time soon.

“We’re gonna go younger again next year, we’re gonna add a couple more pieces to it,” he said on the 31 Thoughts Podcast. “I love young players. We did it in Chicago and we’re doing it here in Florida. We’re just gonna let them learn on the job.”

There’s a nice blueprint I wish the Stars would follow. In both cases, Tallon hired a coach in the middle or beginning of his career (Joel Quenneville in Chicago, Bob Boughner in Florida) to grow and guide his still-developing team. I’m not saying Dallas’ talent pool is anywhere near those two franchises, but then again how do we really know? We won’t until they become NHL-ready playing in the minor leagues.

The difference to me is that Nill seems to keep misreading how close the Stars actually are and how much riding with youth longer could help them reach that point.

Instead, we have stagnation at every level. We don’t know what the true talent is of many of these players so we can’t honestly point at scouting and development as a problem to be fixed. The young players don’t have enough ice-time to make a difference so we can’t blame the coach for not getting enough out of them. And the lack of homegrown talent forces Nill to spend tons of money signing free agents, so we can’t accuse ownership or management of not trying.

And I spend thousands of words over the span of two weeks trying to come up with a coherent, logical train of explanations and solutions to the problems plaguing the Dallas Stars. And in conclusion,

4/6/18 – Backup Goaltender Options for 2019

While you’re here, why not take a 5 minute survey about the 2018 Dallas Stars season? Please?

It seems like the Stars are looking for goaltending every offseason because, well, they kind of are. Antti Niemi didn’t work. Kari Lehtonen has been ok, but he’s now about to head into free agency. Ben Bishop is going to be here for a while, but there are no prospects beating down the door to take a backup NHL job yet.

So, once again, the Stars are going to have to dip into the market to find a goalie. Maybe it’s simply Lehtonen. Lehtonen on a pay cut could be fine, but what if there are better options out there? The theory out there seems to be that the Stars skaters go into a mental meltdown when Lehtonen consistently plays. I don’t know that I buy it as a big driver of problems. I do see what other people see: something does look different. If you’re of the mind that this is a real thing then it makes sense to at least see what the goalie marketplace has to offer unless Lehtonen is willing to sign for league minimum or something nutty.

I hit up Cap Friendly to pull the list of free agent goalies this offseason, both restricted and unrestricted. From that list I knocked off a bunch of AHL guys and restricted guys that make absolutely zero sense. I left some on that make zero sense, but not absolutely zero sense.

From there I pulled even strength save percentage and expected save percentage numbers from the last five years from Corsica to see which goalies exceeded expectations the most. As a point of reference, Ben Bishop has basically nailed his expected save percentage over the last two years.

The last column shows the added value of each keeper at even strength.

Goalies

This list isn’t the most encouraging, but it’s what we have to work with right now. For the purposes of finding the Stars a second goalie we’re going to eliminate Connor Hellebuyck. He isn’t leaving the Jets and he sure as hell isn’t leaving the Jets to join the Stars to split time with Bishop.

We’re also going to eliminate all of the guys below Lehtonen. If Lehtonen is attainable, what sense does it make to consider guys who have performed worse than he has?

That pool of candidates now looks like Andrew Hammond, Juuse Saros, Philipp Grubauer, Jaroslav Halak, Antti Raanta, Petr Mrazek, and Lehtonen.

To weed the group down a bit more I went back to Corsica and pulled their penalty killing numbers. It wouldn’t be fair to just ignore what happens shorthanded now would it?
Goalies2

The two premier restricted free agents head to the top of the list. As good as Grubauer and Saros have been it would be a waste of resources for the Stars to pick either up unless they planned to turn the starting job over to them one year after signing Bishop to a long term deal. I don’t see it.

I’m sure there exists a scenario where you could convince me that doing so would be a good idea, but I don’t know what that scenario entails. I’m also not who would need the most convincing. Bishop has little reason to waive his no movement clause. It’s all just too messy.

This same logic is why spending trade capital on a goalie isn’t ideal. Why trade for Mrazek or an unidentified goalie under contract when other options  that only cost cash exist? It’s just too messy. I guess the point is this: don’t trade for a goalie unless the free agents get stupid deals. I can’t imagine all four getting actual money though.

Raanta and Halak have starting experience. Either could sign on with a team offering a more direct opportunity to start, but the Stars offer an opportunity for either guy to boost their stock for the next offseason. Bishop has had some injury issues. Either guy is probably starting 35+ games here.

Does 35 games behind a good defensive team increase the chances of either one of them getting legitimate money after the upcoming season? For Halak, maybe not given his age. He did get waived while making 4.5 million, and no one claimed him.

Raanta is 28. He’s coming off of his first season as a starter with the Coyotes. Give him a season as an almost starter behind a team as talented as the Stars. If he does what he usually does he’s going to get a good contract from a team in need of a starter.

If both are gone, can Hammond be had for less than Lehtonen? He’s been awful on the penalty kill in the NHL, but it’s only 200 something minutes so, what, about 20 full power plays? If he can be had cheaply that might be worth a flier. Plus, the guy eats hamburgers thrown on the ice from fans. I feel like he’d fit in.

Maybe Halak or Raanta find real starting jobs this offseason with teams on the rise. If they do, good for them. Maybe Lehtonen gives the Stars enough of a deal that considering Hammond isn’t worth the risk. The Stars should at least wait until the offseason before committing to Lehtonen as the backup given the potential availability of two demonstrably superior goalies and a third who can likely match Lehtonen, all of whom might be attainable for a similar cost.

And for the love of God don’t trade a mid to late round pick for the privilege of negotiating with a potential back up goalie. Please.

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The feel better music part needs to come at the end. I don’t need previews for Serious Hockey Stories to be full of me rambling about songs I love. I don’t need to scare people away until after they read about hockey.

I don’t even remember how I came across The Briefs back in the day. I do remember buying their entire CD catalog at Warped Tour, in like 2006, from the BYO booth followed by them breaking up not too far afterwards.

I listen to this song an unhealthy amount. The song is so criminally poppy, and the lyrics are absurd. It’s just several situations where Steve E. Nix (yes) is getting hit on in moderately inappropriate situations followed by him saying “what kind of man do you think I am?”

They will feature in this section more and more over time if I keep doing it. Their album Sex Objects is p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l. I love them and my quest to prove that my musical taste is acceptable will continue.

4/2/18 – The Dallas Stars Have an Internal Promotion Problem

I was dating someone for a while who thinks I have bad taste in music, or at the absolute least hates what I listen to on a regular basis. That irritates me on a number of levels. This Dallas Stars season has been such a beating, and that situation has been too. In the interest of soothing both of those ego nut-punches I’m putting a YouTube video of a different song with every post for the forseeable future.

The Pina Colada song is pretty bad, but who isn’t amused by Rupert Holmes’ other hit “Him” ? (Bad taste my ass.)

I’ve been thinking more about how safe the Stars are. We know how safe they are on the ice. We think we know how safe they are in the trade market. I can’t get over how safe the hiring of Ken Hitchcock is, and how safe the hiring of Lindy Ruff was before him.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

The problem with both hires is that they’re both backwards leaning. Neither hire looks to the future or tries to bring in any fresh ideas.

At this point virtually all of the Dallas Stars entire front office and coaching staff is made up of “establishment” guys.

Jim Nill is in his 5th season in Dallas. Previously he spent nineteen in Detroit with the Red Wings.

This is Les Jackson’s twenty-ninth season with the Stars.

Scott White is in his thirteenth year in the organization. He has been the Texas Stars General Manager, and given how little talent the Stars have sent to Austin he might deserve a raise with how many former Baby Stars are on the roster.

Mark Janko is in his seventeenth season with the franchise.

J.J. McQueen is in his twenty-second year with the Stars. He was the strength and conditioning coach before being promoted to Player Development Coordinator.

Rich Peverley is there and has the same title was McQueen.

Mike Valley, who took a beating from fans as the Stars goaltending coach, is on the Masthead too.

Ignoring the last two, the two furthest down the list, the least experienced person in the front office has been in professional hockey for 13 years which seems reasonable. Outside of Nill, the least tenured person with the organization is White at 13 years. That…that sounds like corporate inbreeding.

Every member of the Tampa Bay Lightning front office has been with the organization less than nine years. Toronto has a relatively new group, newer than in Tampa at least. I would wager that story is similar across the league. These staffs aren’t full of inexperienced guys off the streets, but they aren’t constantly hiring and promoting from within either. They find who they think are the best people (well, white males) for the jobs and put them in charge.

Fear is the foundation of safety.  –Tertullian

One of the consistent themes of Nill’s tenure has been loyalty and trust. He trusts his coach to make the best of the lineup given to him despite the coach (Ruff or Hitchcock) refusing to integrate young guys more regularly. They promote heavily from within. Nill even tries to promote trust with players on the way out the door.

I go back to what Nill said when he traded Stephane Robidas to the Anaheim Ducks in 2014.

“It’s important to have trust and a good relationship with your players, and that’s what I want to do with our organization,” Nill said. “I could have waited for tomorrow or tried to make a different trade, but in the end this was the deal that made the most sense.”

In retrospect, the idea that the Stars needed to build up trust and a good relationship with a guy they were trading away makes zero sense in this context. Mike Heika went on further to explain why it made even less sense:

…why send him to an Anaheim team that not only has the best record in the NHL (potentially giving the Stars a lower draft pick) but could be your opponent in the first round of the playoffs?

“You take that into consideration, but the move was designed to give Stephane a chance to get on a good team, and this was the best option,” Nill said. “I could have traded him to the East, but more to a fringe team and not a top contender.”

If you’re that loyal to everyone, how does the organization get better? How does the organization keep up with new ideas being brought in across the league? I can’t help but note that the team trying to focus on defense first, second, and third with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg doesn’t have anyone high up in the organization who has joined it within the last 13 years as the hockey analytics community has grown rapidly.

Maybe that’s unfair, but then again look at the recent track record of success. All of these guys save Nill have been here for the last decade of futility. Leaning on experienced executives has value, but sometimes being comfortable can be problematic too.

I also openly admit that I’m in no position to critique the individual jobs any of these guys have done. I can’t stress that enough. But, at some point you need some fresh ideas and perspectives from around the league. At some point the front office has to be pushed out of their comfort zone. At some point it makes sense to get an outside perspective on the league’s honest perceptions of the players and prospects in the Stars system.

Hitchcock was brought in to instill discipline and structure for the players. He was brought in to make the players get out of their comfort zone and play “winning” hockey, the hockey that won the Dallas Stars a Stanley Cup 20 years ago.

Yet, Hitchcock was the safest hire possible. Ruff was a safe hire. If either guy didn’t work out it would be easy to point to their NHL resumes as the reasons for hiring them. Pointing back to the past and resting on ideas that have proven in recent years to not work is a big part of the problem with the current Stars.

Loyalty and trust is only going to get you so far. At some point fresh new ideas need to find their way into an organization that appears to have insulated itself from the outside hockey world by a lot of internal promotion and very little external hiring.

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