Two things should always be kept in mind when it comes to the Dallas Stars.
You never have any reason to trust anything that comes out of Jim Nill’s mouth if it’s about potential moves, and you should never pay much attention to media amplified coachspeak.
Coachspeak is that generic string of words a coach lays out for media or other outsiders that doesn’t really tell anyone much of anything. It isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t enlighten discourse in any way. It isn’t intended to either because it isn’t for anyone outside of the locker room.
Coachspeak doesn’t even tell players much specifically. It’s a series of mantras intended to trigger memories of how a coach wants players to play or specific traits they need to remember to project outwardly. Every coach does it on every level. We call it “their message”.
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
You know, the good stuff.
Soon-to-be-named Stars Head Coach Jim Montgomery has his own mantras. We’ll surely get to know them well over time. One aspect of his program is his “process” that we’ve seen discussed often since the news of his imminent hiring started to leak. He detailed it for The Coaches Site.
Those seven items are…something.
If we’re four out of seven in a game, we’re probably going to win that game. And if we’ve got five or six, the games actually become lopsided in our favour. Like I said, it’s simple.
Number one, two, and four stick out quite a bit here because Montgomery has been billed as a possession-focused modern coach. His teams racked up the Corsis in the NCAA so a focus on hits and faceoffs and blocked shots seems surprising because of how relatively insignificant they are to winning hockey games.
I settled on these seven because they give the team a clear understanding of what to do when it comes to the small details of the game, and it will lead to big results.
Then it starts to make more sense.
“It’s about keeping things simple and boring, really. Simple and boring work well in sports. Through my playing career, I noticed that if I thought about simple things, small details about my game, I usually had really good games; when I worried about the big things like results, I played nervous and didn’t play well.
Coming up with the process was a way for me to relate to my team about what will give us success. When we’re playing bigger games, we always come back to the process and it allows us to play consistently in the big moments when the pressure is on. We always say, “we’re about the process” because it keeps things simple.
…It helps with the mental component, too—when moments get big, we talk about staying in the moment and focusing on our process. We should be focusing on our next shift, or the next face off. The simplicity of the process allows our players to mentally lock in.
Breathe out of your eyelids. Don’t think meat, pitch. This process he lays out is much more of a mental trick to help players focus. If you look at each of the seven they’re mostly vague and hard to measure outside of hits, odd man rushes, and the 60% faceoff goal.
So these are small things that help players focus on smaller aspects of the game, but what does the overall picture look like from his mind? Fortunately a video is floating around out there if you want to get a free trial or subscription to The Coaches Site. I did because I was curious after seeing that is was titled “Puck Possession”.
Ok, now we’re speaking language that sounds more like what I’ve seen in Denver video, and that reflects the numbers his teams put up.
The video is 31 minutes long. It contains a brief Q&A after 25 minutes of him speaking about the intricacies of how he coached Denver up. It includes slides stating the principles he follows offensively and in transition plus video clips of his team executing.
I pulled all of the slides and interesting quotes of his from throughout.
He started off with a bang.
If we feel like we possess the puck for 60% of the game we’re going to win at least 80 percent of our games.
And how does he envision doing that in general?
What Montgomery did throughout this video is that missing piece that we don’t see as outsiders. He went into detail about how he teaches his team to get and maintain possession. That starts with a strict focus on skaters protecting the puck and winning puck battles.
He then spent time going over faceoffs, but we’re here for the sauce.
Penetrating the dots is quite the #HockeyAfterDark way to say generating scoring chances.
And we must end up penetrating inside the dots. It’s great to possess the puck outside the dots, but if you’re not generating scoring chances then that’s the number one telltale sign for us when we do our analytics. We do scoring chances after the game, and we want to know how many we’re generating inside the house compared to our opponents. And usually if we have a big advantage there we win the game quite handily.
If you generate more scoring chances than your opponent you tend to win games. I’ll be damned. This was the first of many instances where Montgomery indicated how important it is to him to create meaningful offense.
“If you can breakout through the middle you’re gonna have success.”
The keys to everything he wants his teams to do come from the blueline. It seems like the clear focus for him will be coming up through the middle instead of up the boards constantly like the Stars did under Ken Hitchcock.
We want to preferably break out through the middle because that’s where we feel you gain the most speed at the other team’s blueline.
And oh my sweet lord this quote:
We want players that want the puck, and you gotta demand the puck.
He then illustrated how this looks with several clips, but this one impressed me with how quickly his guys moved the puck.
It’s about making a pass to get to the next layer, and get past the forwards to create odd man rushes and easy entries.
Easy entries? What a nice thing that would be to see.
Now we move to the neutral zone. Montgomery has already mentioned speed a couple times. He does here too.
If you can carry the puck in with speed into the opposition’s end, D-zone breakouts and neutral zone counters are the two that create the best scoring chances.
He has two neutral zone schemes he likes to follow. The first one he took directly from the Chicago Blackhawks.
If you’re looking for more promising signs of his focus on offense, he shared his thoughts about how the forwards should be thinking in the neutral zone.
They have to have some creativity to read open ice and trust their offensive instincts.
The other scheme he calls Climb, but he took this one from the Los Angeles Kings.
Taking cues from two of the best possession teams of the decade seems like a splendid idea. This scheme has all players below the blueline with the defenseman bringing the puck forward, or “climbing”.
You really have to teach your defensemen to be patient so you can expose and create open ice.
John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Miro Heiskanen. Inject all of that into my veins.
We haven’t even gotten into the offensive zone yet. When he finally really started talking about offense he began by referencing Wayne Gretzky.
For us, we call it the Gretzky cutbacks and delays. The best offensive mind ever, I think he introduced this. I think the Russians were doing it way before Gretzky introduced it to everybody, but I think you’re crazy if you don’t learn and teach what Gretzky did.
He went on to explain what the significance of the cutbacks and delays can be offensively.
The most important thing is when he pulls up or does a cutback, you don’t always have a play to make. When we talk about puck possession at Denver, if we can’t make a play we’re going to put the puck to the goal line. And we always have a middle lane drive that is going to the strong side post…Every defensive team is the most vulnerable when the puck is behind the goalie because all eyes and stick positioning and feet positioning are most vulnerable if you can create puck possession behind the net.
Once they get the puck behind the net the offense kicks in. Montgomery referenced being in a triangle down low, and moving the puck low to high frequently. If they move the puck from low to high then the defensemen are a critical part of the offense.
The defensemen have to be involved to keep the puck moving and create mismatches. The Stars absolutely have the personnel to make this work.
So, that got longer than I expected. In short, I’ll let Montgomery sum up what he has going on.
“We feel that in this day and age to score goals, you have to empower everyone to do it.”
He has his “process”, but make no mistake this is about offense. Denver attacks the net and protects their own so naturally winning net battles will happen. I don’t know how they ever got 50 hits in a game honestly.
When he says that Denver would win four of those pieces of the process, 3-7 are almost certainly the most commonly won pieces, but even then they aren’t the ultimate goal of what Montgomery wants. He wants his teams playing offensive hockey, but he wants them to focus on details so they don’t get lost in the moment.
It probably isn’t worth worrying that he’s out of touch with modern hockey. He pretty clearly gets it, even if the note about hits is a little troubling.
“If you don’t have any questions it looks like we might be able to hit the beer earlier.”
Yeah, he’ll probably fit in here.
It’s stupid. Let’s calm down.