1/23/19 – Trade Deadline and Andre Burakovsky

The Dallas Stars are in a weird spot heading into the final months of the season. With the trade deadline approaching the Stars feel like a team that needs to be active, and they seem like they will be prior to the February 25th deadline. They need help up front for sure, and they have the cap space to make a move right now. How realistic is it that they can make a big ticket acquisition that helps them now, but doesn’t hurt the franchise long term?

We have to start by acknowledging a few basic realities.

  • The Stars don’t trade first round picks.
  • The Stars are in a 3-way tie for the 7th seed with two teams on all of their tails.
  • The Stars are paying $12,000,000 for guys who haven’t really played this year.
  • The Stars need young cheap talent to fill in around Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin

If the Stars aren’t going to trade first round picks they likely aren’t going to play at the top end of the market, and they almost certainly wouldn’t for a rental without discussing an extension. It would make little sense for them long term given the need for cheap talent.

This need for cheap talent extends across the league, but for a team with two players tied up with mega deals the need is even more critical. Let us remember Ben Bishop is signed at close to five million until he’s 36. Alexander Radulov is over six million until he’s 35. This is the cost of doing business in the NHL, but they critically need cheaper talent to be good down the lineup to have sustained success.

Cheaper talent is exactly what teams are going to target in trades. Jason Dickinson, Denis Gurianov, and Jason Robertson are the type of guys teams are going to covet in return for good players. Julius Honka used to be one of those guys, but his value is almost certainly in the tank. Ditto Val Nichushkin.

If you’re the Stars the most sensible route for the near and long term is to find diamonds in the rough then hope putting them in a different environment helps. One of those types of Nichushkin himself, and given his salary a challenge type trade could make a lot of sense.

One name brought up recently is Andrei Burakovsky of the Washington Capitals. He’s going to make a reasonable salary during the 2020 season if he scores. If the Stars think he can score more with more of an opportunity to play he could make a lot of sense. Is Dallas the place that will give him that chance? Gurianov and Honka and the Stars track record of developing offensive talent would suggest no.

But, if the cost is reasonable Burakovsky is certainly worth the gamble. This is with only seven games tracked, buuuuuut check out how Burakovsky stacks up in Shot Contributions, Zone Entries, and Zone Exits per the data tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turtoro.

Over several years the picture is essentially the same.

The kid can play. I don’t know if he can score, but I am fairly confident he could help the Stars generate more offense given an opportunity.

This is the type of value deal the Stars are likely going to need to look at. Trading massive pieces from the young talent pool is tempting, but long term I don’t know how good of an idea that is unless they’re acquiring long term fits under reasonable term. At the end of the day the kids need to play. Let them see what they can do. Pick up Burakovsky if the price is reasonable, but not at the expense of quality young talent capable of playing a regular shift inexpensively now.

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1/19/19 – Jim Montgomery’s December Demeanor Shift

The Dallas Stars are a mess, and I keep wanting to understand why. I realize this is futile, but that has never stopped me before. So I decided to jump head first into the world of Jim Montgomery post game quotes to see if it is possible to see when things started going so wrong.

I’m not going to post 100 quotes from Montgomery here, though I did post a lot of them. The quotes make this post long. Sorry.

I did paste 95% of his post home game quotes into a Google Doc in case you’d like to read them. These are from after the home games – the games I get post game emails about so they’re the most easily accessible. Picking and choosing quotes for this story is by definition cherry-picking. That’s why I’m providing that link so you can see for yourself, and determine if I’m out of my mind.

Before I’m asked: yes, I notice the disproportionate amount of comments about Brett Ritchie. I’m going to get to that eventually. What also stands out is that Montgomery had a shift in public tone or demeanor somewhere in mid-December.

I’m not going to try to speculate about what happened because I have no idea. I don’t think that would be fair to anyone. I will say that the massive tonal shift is very obvious, and it would be naive to simply think nothing changed. You don’t go from praising a team and their leaders to, as an organization, calling the leaders fucking horseshit while talking about a culture of mediocrity without something happening.

We’ll start from opening night and go in chronological order.

10/4, 3-0 win over Arizona

“I liked the way we started the game and then I thought we kind of fell back a little bit.  The only part of the game where we need to get better at was the last eight minutes of the second period.  Once we were up 3-0, the air came out of our balloon and they really came at us.  If it wasn’t for (Ben) Bishop being so great, it could have been 3-3 at the end of the second.  That’s something we need to learn from and build on but overall our emotion, our effort and our execution was pretty good for game one.”

10/6, 5-1 win over Winnipeg

“Yeah, I mean, some of those plays I was just like ‘wow, Nelly [Todd Nelson], did you see that play? Did you see that goal?’ They were special tonight, but more importantly, as a team, I thought we were really good. I thought our puck pressure – I loved our start.

On Jamie Benn

“What I’ve really enjoyed about Jamie Benn in this short beginning of the season is how vocal he is and how accountable he’s holding people on the bench. His leadership has been very valuable.”

10/9, 7-4 loss to Toronto

“There is a lot of areas that we need to get better at. This is going to be a good learning experience for us. I thought our effort and our emotion was very good. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be against a very good hockey club.”

Discussing if the top line was good enough against Toronto:

“Offensively yes. Defensively, they were out there for three goals, five-on-five, so no they’ve got to do a better job of shutting people down. Not only creating offense but not giving up momentum.”

10/13, 5-3 win over Anaheim

“I think we learned that we can change momentum in a game. I don’t think anybody was happy with our first period. In particular, we thought we were not playing with enough aggression in tough areas like our net front and our defensive zone. That being said, you have to give credit to our leaders. I don’t know what they did to change, but everything changed about face and that’s a credit to our leaders and everybody else who followed them.”

I feel like I should point out how often emotion, momentum, and effort are brought up. The leaders are praised for leading. Jamie Benn is praised for being vocal. Montgomery is providing criticism, but the tone feels like it’s coming from a good place.

10/19, 3-1 loss to Minnesota

“I just think that we have too many forwards in particular who aren’t confident offensively. And they’re not working hard enough to get to the greasy area. I thought Dubnyk saw too many shots from our point men. We did a good job getting it to our point men, but we’re not doing a good enough job fighting and clawing to take away his eyes and create more rebounds.”

10/23, 4-2 win over Los Angeles

“I thought the first twelve minutes, and then in the second period, there were a lot of opportunities. It was the mentality we wanted tonight. I thought we did a much better job tonight whether it was the puck carrier or people getting there for rebounds. I think it created a lot of scrambles that we hadn’t seen in our last three or four games.”

10/25, 5-2 win over Anaheim

“I thought, in tonight’s game, if you look at a picture of what Stars hockey should look like, that’s tonight.”

As of 10/25 the Stars, in Montgomery’s mind, were able to play the exact type of game he wants to see. 10/25.

11/8, 4-3 win over San Jose

“I think we’ve toughened up on the road trip and become resilient. A lot of people have confidence in other people which is good long-term. We’ve got to get better in our team game, we can’t continue to rely on goaltenders and the occasional goal to strike ahead. Clearly San Jose was better than we were tonight as a whole.”

On Roman Polak

“He’s probably a microcosm of what we’re looking at. He scrapes, he battles, he claws, he kicks and that’s what we’re doing as a team right now. It’s fun to be in the room because everyone is fighting for each other. We’ve got to keep building on that and improve our five-on-five game.”

11/10, 4-5 overtime loss to Nashville

“I thought we did. It’s been something that I thought has built with our team on the road trip, and it’s that we don’t stop fighting. We are getting production from a lot of people. It’s funny; remember in the first five games when everyone was worried about secondary scoring? It’s primary scoring now that is not where it needs to be.”

Oops.

11/12, 2-1 loss to Columbus

On Benn and Tyler Seguin

“No, I loved the way they competed tonight. Both of them. I thought it was the most passion and will, and if they keep playing that like we are going to be in a good place.”

Effort.

“But, I really like our effort. If our effort is like that, you know the execution is going to come because we have a lot of skill in that room.”

In six weeks they will be called fucking horseshit.

11/16, 1-0 win in overtime over Boston

“Something we’ve really improved upon this year is our commitment to playing through the game, no matter what the score is, and continuing to play hard in the third period. That escaped us early as three of the first ten games we lost was because of failures in the third period. That’s an area of our game that has really improved.”

11/23, 6-4 win over Ottawa

“I thought the top line got us going. They were on top of pucks and I thought this was Tyler Seguin’s best game since maybe our fourth game of the year. He was moving his feet, winning battles and he was reading on the forecheck. And, obviously, his shot. He was letting it go from everywhere.”

12/3, 4-1 win over Edmonton

“Jamie Benn has been phenomenal for, I’d say it’s been close to ten games now.  He’s really winning so many battles and we have a lot of people who are digging in.  I think Tyler Seguin is really picking up his game and when your best players are your hardest workers then you start to see your team build.  I think that’s what we’re seeing.  Because of that, all the other guys are following but a lot of them were already there like the Dickinson’s of the world and the Faksa’s and the Pitlick’s.  Now it seems like no matter who you name, I can say that person is bringing compete and they’re playing hard for their teammates.  The selflessness we’re seeing is starting to become contagious.”

12/7, 3-2 win over San Jose

“We found a pulse. We were bad in the first and thank god Ben Bishop was not. They are a really good transitional offensive team and we weren’t going through bodies. We weren’t getting pucks deep and we had a lot of turnovers and we just mentally were not sharp. I thought that was a carry-over from our morning skate which wasn’t very crisp.”

On the top line

“Yeah, you know what, they were just like the rest of the team; they got better as the game went on, but I didn’t think it was one of their better nights. I do think Jamie wasn’t himself, and I don’t think his vision was right, after he took that elbow in the eye. It was accidental, but he wasn’t stopping on pucks and didn’t seem to be around the puck as much as he usually is. And, the other two were just not what they usually are for us.”

This was the first post game mention of the morning skate I believe.

12/18, 2-0 win over Calgary

“There’s different times where you’ve got to recognize that you’re not playing with emotion. You have to play this game with emotion, but you can’t be emotional. I thought we had a real good balance of that tonight because even though we were in control in the first two periods, we weren’t that in control on the scoreboard.”

This is about where the tonal shift goes into high gear. It’s subtle at first and builds until December 27th when Sean Shapiro wrote that Montgomery told the team he was “fucking embarrassed” with their practice and place in the standings. He’s referencing a lack of energy and emotion more. No one is really being praised except Ben Bishop and of course Brett Ritchie (???).

12/20, 5-2 loss to Chicago

“I didn’t prepare them well enough as to what our details have to be on rush defense against a team that is a really good rush offense team.”

Pond hockey:

“It’s very frustrating, we didn’t have the right attitude. We had the right attitude against Calgary. We played a hard game, played the game the right way. But, we played pond hockey tonight, especially in the first 30 minutes and it cost us. We were down 3-0 for a reason.”

12/23, 3-1 loss to the Islanders

“Maybe after the first seven minutes we ran out of gas. I thought we skated the first seven minutes and then we were real bad.”

” We have to keep working. We have to keep working together. We have to get tougher. And that’s mentally, I’m talking about. Not so much the physicality on the ice, but they go hand in hand.”

“To me, it’s more a mindset. The product on the ice, obviously, the offensive side of the game is porous right now. To me, it’s a mindset of pushing the envelope and wanting to make plays, wanting to be a difference maker. Guys were tired tonight, but a lot of other teams have similar schedules and they find ways to win hockey games.”

12/29, 5-1 win over Detroit

“I think it’s too early to say we’re building anything. I think we’ve got to do it over a more extended period of time. In tonight’s win there were moments where we were a very good hockey team and there’s moments where we weren’t again. It’s not a consistent thing of how we’re playing together.”

This one sticks out to me because throughout the year Montgomery has tried to be upbeat and positive. The Stars just beat the shit out of Detroit, and this is the most enthusiasm he can muster. Score effects are real. This was also the day after Horseshit-Gate

1/2, 5-4 win over New Jersey

On Seguin:

“He’s been practicing really well lately and hasn’t been rewarded.  He got rewarded tonight and I thought it was his best game in a long time.  The way he was attacking the net and the way he was getting into shooting areas where he scores from.  He was getting inside the dots, his one-timers were from high quality areas instead of being towards the boards.”

On December 3rd he praised Seguin. That’s a stretch of about a month, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that over that time he still led the Stars in expected goals and shots with a low shooting percentage. Call it a hunch.

1/4, 2-1 overtime win against Washington

This is where the quotes feel bizarre.

“Our struggles come from when we have success. We get way too comfortable when we have games like we did tonight. That’s the history of our season and that’s really the history of the last three years. It’s not the road, it’s our mentality. We don’t change at the right times and our shifts are too long. Anytime we face adversity we don’t dig in we take short cuts. That’s why we’re an inconsistent hockey team. We’ve just got to keep harping on the details that we believe in. Keep harping on the process. We hope that, as a group, the leadership and the core guys are able to pull everybody in with them.”

Why is Montgomery talking about the last three years? That’s weird, right? He wasn’t here so the only way he’s getting that information is second hand at best. He spent a good part of the season praising the leaders, the emotion, and everything that goes with that, but now the team doesn’t dig in when they face adversity?

January 12th was the “culture of mediocrity” game. Those quotes are located here.

In early to mid December something changed. Whether Montgomery got tired of seeing similar threads in the games or something else I have no idea. But things clearly took a turn for the dark side about a week before Jim Lites publicly embarrassed the franchise.

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1/17/19 – The Dallas Stars Can’t Enter The Offensive Zone

When I was looking into the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier I wanted to start getting into how the top teams in the league enter the zone. The Dallas Stars seem terrible at it. They aren’t really terrible at entering the zone, but what they do immediately after they enter the zone tends to be predictable and bad. They also aren’t particularly good at entering the zone with possession either. As with most things related to this team the Stars are good enough to be respectable, but can’t reasonably play with the big kids.

Why is it important to enter the zone with possession? From a statistical perspective it leads to more shots. NHL teams take about .66 shots per zone entry with possession of the puck. That drops to around .26 shots per entry when they dump the puck in. It may not seem like much, but it is. If a team dumped the puck in 100% of the time they would take about 40 less shots attempts per 100 entries compared to a team that always carried the puck in. If a team is shooting 5% on shot attempts we’re talking two to three goals difference on those 100 entries. Think about how many times a team enters the zone per game.

It’s a big deal.

The Stars are actually middle of the pack in possession entries per the data tracked by Corey Sznajder. I don’t think that accurately reflects how serious the problem is though. When you compare the Stars to most of the top teams in the league a pattern emerges.

Many of the better teams in the league are led in entries by their star talent, and many teams in the league have many players who would lead the Stars in controlled entries.
The Calgary Flames are a weird exception.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche have four players who have more success entering the zone than the Stars top forward including two of their very best in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Going back over Tampa Bay is a bit redundant. You get the point from this article. They’re way better. We get it.

Nashville Predators

Nashville has four skaters show up prior to Janmark. Among those are most of their key forwards.

San Jose Sharks

San Jose has five above Janmark. They also have seven of the top ten.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto: five before Janmark and seven of the top ten.

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg has three before Janmark and six of the top ten.

Washington Capitals

Washington has three before Janmark before the Stars rattle some off, but the three ahead of Janmark are considerably ahead of him.

I have to reiterate that this is 10-15% of a season’s worth of data so far so these numbers could be worse, and to be honest I wouldn’t be shocked if they were. The Stars seem to be trending in the wrong direction with the eye test,

So yes, the Stars as a group are in the middle of the pack when it comes to entering the zone with possession. They do it without the top end entry ability of many of the better teams in the league. Watching the Los Angeles Kings and Jack Campbell (!!!!) gobble up the Stars tonight made this seem like a relevant post to get into the world.

This team is screwed unless they find out how to enter the zone more effectively soon.

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1/17/19 – What Separates Tampa Bay from Dallas?

Wednesday the Dallas Stars demonstrated they could play with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and occasionally dominate them. The Lightning are the deepest team in hockey by a good margin. Ultimately the Stars lost, but you have to be encouraged by how they lost. The loss got me wondering what the biggest underlying differences are between the two teams.

Obviously we know Tampa Bay is deeper up front. They have guys on their fourth line who could reasonably compete for spots in the Stars top six. Are all these guys amazing, or does how Tampa plays magnify the skills they do have?

I don’t know, but as a group they work wonderfully. One thing that is unquestionable is that they are much more effective at entering the offensive zone with possession of the puck.

The chart to the right displays Zone Entry data per hour as tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turtoro. The chart is sorted by successful entries with possession. In order the metrics are Pass Entries, Carry Ins, Dump Ins, and Failed Entries. It isn’t lost on me that the top four are Lightning forwards, and four of the top eleven. At least one forward from each of their lines is in that top 11 including the full “2nd line” of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Tyler Johnson.

Maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone makes the entire process of scoring goals easier. For instance, the Stars attempt .46 shots per zone entry. When they carry the puck in that number jumps to .66 in the games tracked. Scoring is easier when you have the puck. Tampa Bay does a much better job of making sure they maintain possession of the puck as they attack.

One thing the Stars do really well is keep pucks out of their net. That doesn’t mean they have better defensemen though, which is something I vaguely remember someone associated with the broadcast saying the other night. Emphasis on the word vaguely. I could be making that up, but it feels like something I heard. Maybe the point was saying the Stars have a better defense?



Who knows? The point remains. Tampa has really good defensemen. They help generate offense the way that Stars coach Jim Montgomery would probably, in a perfect world, like his guys to do it.

The Lightning Shot Contributions from defensemen put the Stars to shame. Victor Hedman and John Klingberg are neck and neck, but Tampa has three more guys who contribute more to shot generation than the Stars second best, Miro Heiskanen.

None of that is to say that those guys are better than Heiskanen. The well-oiled system Tampa plays undoubtedly helps. So does the ridiculous forward depth and awesome ability to enter the zone. But there can be little question that Tampa Bay’s defense does contribute more offensively than the Stars unit.

This sample of data is only 10-15% of a full season. Undoubtedly these numbers will fluctuate some. The general idea remains the same though. Tampa Bay is so much better at entering the zone with possession, and their defensemen are so much more successful at helping generate offensive opportunities than Dallas. When the Stars play at full speed on top of their game they showed they can skate with them. The question for the remainder of the season is if they can consistently put that level of play on display.

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1/16/19 – Spezza Needs Finishers

After the Dallas Stars lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night Bob Sturm posted this question about Jason Spezza and Valeri Nichushkin:

I don’t really remember when this was. Maybe it was prior to this season? Some people thought (not necessarily Bob) that Nichushkin would return from Russia to magically score at a significantly higher rate than he ever did on either continent. Oddly enough that hasn’t been the case.

Komrade Val aside, Spezza has been fine I think. He isn’t the dominant Spezza of yesteryear, but he can still be a valuable player. The problem is that he needs players with him who can finish after he gets the puck in the zone.

The data collected by Corey Sznajder is invaluable. He gets everything from zone entries and exits to shot contributions. He has about ten percent of the season done so this isn’t complete data yet. However, the data he has does show Spezza to be a competent player.

Let’s start with shot contributions. These were visualized by a CJ Turturo Tableau. We’re looking at these on a per hour basis. The green bar is shots taken. Spezza is clearly behind most of the Stars forwards in shot generation, but he’s high on this list from Shot Assists, or shots his passes set up.

In 2017 Spezza was in the 90th percentile of shots per hour. Last year he dropped to the 55th percentile. This year he’s at the 22nd percentile. This tells me that Spezza, at this stage of his career, needs players on his wings who can finish to be productive. He’s still setting shots up, but he either isn’t or can’t get his shot off at a high level anymore.

His three most consistent linemates have been Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark, and Jamie Benn. Based on the image above Janmark should be the kind of shooter to do well with Spezza, but I wonder if he is being too selective.

Janmark’s heat map from Hockeyviz shows that when he is on the ice the Stars get in real close on the right side for attempts. Just about everywhere else is a disaster. If you’re being selective and the team can’t score then maybe throw a few more shots on net.

Another note with Janmark is that he has 6.33 Individual Expected Goals (ixG) at even strength. That’s good for 5th on the team out of the forwards, and basically tied with Alexander Radulov. Janmark is only shooting 4.5% though after shooting 14.5% through two seasons. He’s due for a little bit of puck luck eventually you’d think.

Benn also definitely seems like the kind of shooter who needs to be with a playmaker like Spezza, but if neither can drive the play anymore how do they get into scoring position? The roster has some poor fits at this stage due to not being really prepared for the natural aging curve.

Janmark enters the offensive zone with possession as well as any forward on the roster. Spezza and Shore are both also in the top five. Shoot the puck guys.

Benn sits at 8th on this list. I still wonder how much of that is Seguin and Radulov always having the puck, but regardless he’s low on the list. At this point he probably needs to stay with them to maximize his production. Janmark with Spezza is a good fit, but they have to get someone who can put some pucks in the net on the line.

Andrew Cogliano improved the roster, but he isn’t that guy. This line’s problem isn’t getting into the offensive zone. The problem is getting pucks on net and finishing. I don’t think Spezza is done. I think he may be done scoring many goals at even strength, but his time as a useful NHL player isn’t over.

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1/15/19 – Jamie Benn and Player Valuation

In any business you have to trust your people to make decisions that will push your business forward. At some point every business needs outside input and fresh blood to keep the decision making process evolving. The idea that Stars management needs some fresh blood is one I floated this past off season. This recent note about Jamie Benn’s Art Ross Trophy being a catalyst and excuse for his large contract extension only strengthens that thought.

Sean Shapiro is cranking out a large amount of high quality interesting pieces on the regular for The Athletic that makes my five bucks a month to The Athletic worth it.I get not wanting to spend money on too many things. Believe me, I do. When I upgraded this place to Business out of pocket to work on making it look a little nicer I winced. I don’t think twice about that five bucks though.

I don’t know how much of it is Sean or the aftermath of Jim Lites embarrassing the franchise lately, but it seems like the stream of stories worth writing about doesn’t end. Sean’s latest Shap Shots column has so many little details in it like this stunning admission from a team source about Jamie Benn:

Last month a team source told me that in hindsight, Benn winning the Art Ross could have been the worst thing to ever happen to this franchise. It was an award that helped Benn demand his massive contract and set unfair expectations for a player about to exit his prime. In hindsight, that was the moment this source said the Stars should have traded Benn for the king’s ransom that he would have been worth at the time.

[…]

As Benn has aged — just a season and a half into the life of his eight-year contract — the Stars haven’t just gotten angry with the player, but with aging itself. They bet big that Benn would either find the fountain of youth or a time machine, and he’s yet to make those particular discoveries.

Posting this to r/dating_advice as a relationship scenario is going to make commenters tell OP to run away. This is Not Good.

Let’s start with the patently absurd idea that Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross Trophy could have been the worst thing to ever happen to this franchise.

Stop it.

Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross was a blessing for a franchise that recently had otherwise had little worth celebrating. Between this and Mike Modano hitting his milestones as his career wound down how much else was there?

Benn winning the Art Ross Trophy did not force the Stars to sign a contract they believed was too expensive. The Stars were within their rights to attempt to trade Benn if they felt he wasn’t worth the money. They signed the contract the same as he did.

If the Stars decided to trade Benn after he won the Art Ross do they make the playoffs in 2016? What would the reaction have been as Benn improved to 89 points from 87 in 2017? What would they have traded him for? Teams trading the good player for futures rarely win the deal (as evidenced by Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza). What good would it have done the franchise to deal Benn?

The Stars would have gotten prospects and/or picks in return. What about their recent track record of drafting and developing players suggests that they would have turned those assets into actual NHL talent? Trading Jamie Benn never would have been a realistic option for a team that desperately needed to hold on to key players.

The biggest red flag here is the Stars not grasping the aging curve of an NHL player. It was never reasonable to assume that Benn was going to score 80+ points a year during this contract. He’s still on a 60 point pace this year so he’s hardly a bad player.

Expectations versus results are the biggest problem here. The Stars expected superstar Jamie Benn to always be here. Instead they’re getting really good Jamie Benn at a superstar cost. Then they’re blaming the aging player for the team not getting what they expected.

The team set unrealistic expectations and the team has to deal with it. It isn’t Benn’s fault that he is aging or that his personality doesn’t match what the team wants from a captain. By all accounts he’s a great guy who is busting his ass to be the best player he can be. He isn’t a vocal leader, but he never has been.

His play is saying that he’s a good, albeit aging, player. That isn’t what the Stars wanted. The Stars need to re-evaluate the thought process that led them to sign a contract they no longer seem to like less than two years later so that they can avoid “mistakes” like this in the future.

What they shouldn’t do is continue to dump all over Jamie Benn for their own player valuation “mistakes”.

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1/15/19 – Free of Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano is a Good Value Buy

Devin Shore grew to become a fan favorite over time. He was everyone’s kid brother running around with his tongue out getting extra hyped when he finally scored a goal. Yesterday the Dallas Stars sent him to the Anaheim Ducks for Andrew Cogliano and made a significant upgrade to the roster.

I can’t stress enough that Cogliano doesn’t solve the Stars problems. He isn’t the scorer they need. He’s a speedy winger with a respected defensive reputation, and presumably he is being brought in just as much for his leadership ability as the Stars try to find players capable of dragging teammates into the battle.

He is an interesting value pickup though. Cogliano hasn’t had a particularly great season. His three goals and eight assists aren’t going to wow anyone. His steady string of awful shooting percentages over a four year period isn’t inspiring either. He is however markedly better than Shore while only costing Shore plus an extra million in cap hit.

Cogliano has been skating with Ryan Kesler and Jakub Silfverberg mostly this season. The Ducks have used them in a heavy defensive role where they get only 36 to 37% offensive zone starts. They’re still putting up an impressive 47% Corsi % given the tough minutes, but the heavy defensive zone starts are a new development.

Join me for a deep dive of Natural Stat Trick‘s numbers, won’t you?

Going back to the 2014 season, Cogliano’s most consistent linemates were Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik. They got close to 50/50 offensive zone starts. In 2015 he began his run of playing with Silfverberg, but they were joined by Nate Thompson. This time they got 60% offensive zone starts.

During the Cogliano/Kesler/Silfverberg era they had a top notch three year stretch from 2016 through last season where they averaged 46% offensive zone starts and a 50-51% Corsi % while garnering Selke Trophy votes. This season the Ducks have pushed them into a heavy defensive role that has had a predictable impact on their numbers.

One thing that stands out, at least the last two years, is that the other two (and Kesler in particular) get a lot of support from Cogliano. Without him on the ice Kesler’s numbers take a noticeable hit. The chart below has Time on Ice, Time Without, and Corsi %’s with Cogliano, without Cogliano, and Cogliano without the player.

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Cogliano and his speed can still make an impact when he isn’t with Kesler. Kesler missed half of last season then had offseason hip surgery. There was at one point some thought that he might miss all of the 2019 campaign too.

“As of right now, there is no timeline whatsoever,” general manager Bob Murray told the Ducks website Friday. “He couldn’t skate [during the second half of the season]. No push-off on his right leg. He has to rebuild his glutes and quads. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. I’m hopeful to have him back before Christmas, but that’s all I’m going to say right now.”

Is it any surprise then, that with Kesler and Cogliano on the ice the Ducks have virtually no drive to the net? These are the shot heat maps from Hockeyviz with Cogliano on the ice in 2019 and 2017 (the last full year Kesler was healthy).

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That trio opened up a can against the opposition in 2017. 2019 has been a much different story. Kesler is essentially what Martin Hanzal has been for the Stars when healthy. Kesler was a possibility to miss games until Christmas this year, but as of January 14th he has 44 games played. There is no way he’s healthy, and at 34 even if he is he isn’t close to the Kesler of old.

Even when healthy, Kesler’s playmaking ability began taking a hit in the 2017 season. Using the passing data tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turturo it’s pretty apparent that his playmaking was in decline when you check out his pass quality stats.

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Looking at the Ducks 2019 tracked data, albeit only ten or so games, shows this even more clearly. Kesler appears done. Turturo updated the viz with the 2019 data. This is the Ducks shot contributions per hour for their forwards. The green bar is shots per hour. Each color after green refers to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shot assists, or passes that lead to shot attempts. Notice the top and bottom of the chart.

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Cogliano has been setting up a lot of potential offense in his minutes despite heavy defensive responsibilities and playing with a broken Kesler. Reportedly the Stars are going to use him with Jason Spezza.

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Say what you will about Spezza, but his ability to generate offense with his passing is still significantly better than Kesler. Playing with Spezza will put Cogliano in more of an offensive role, but expecting him to start producing at a high level offensively would be foolish. He’s a utility guy – the kind of guy all successful offenses need down the lineup. But that line is still going to need a trigger man.

At the end of the day, no matter where Cogliano fits, the Stars turned a young player who has demonstrated little ability to be a consistently successful NHL player into a significantly better player who fits their immediate window, and who could perform significantly better with a new center.

Going back to the data tracked by Sznajder, check out 2014-18 Cogliano side by side with Shore.

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Yes, Cogliano is 31. Yes, Shore should be improving. Here’s 2018.

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Cogliano is unquestionably better, He doesn’t cost much more. He should help with the leadership issue. Offensively he makes the team better, even if he doesn’t fix the issue. Defensively he’s at least as good as Shore. He will continue to be an excellent penalty killer.

I see no downside to adding this kind of value.

Good on the Stars for pulling the trigger as long as they understand that this doesn’t fix the problems. It’s a good value play, but legitimately competing is going to require at least one top six scoring forward added to the mix.

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1/14/19 – Dallas Stars Swap Devin Shore for Andrew Cogliano

The Dallas Stars have swapped 24 year old Devin Shore in exchange for 31 year old Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks. Cogliano is signed for two more years at a hair over three million dollars.

If you look at this trade in a vacuum it looks like the Stars turned a 24 year old into a 31 year old locked into a three year contract while producing not much more than the 24 year old. The points here don’t really matter. This trade isn’t about points. This trade is about finding guys who can drag the entire team into the fight.

Andrew Cogliano is fast. At one point he was among the fastest in the league. He is known for being an excellent penalty killer. He is valued around the league for being a great guy and a leader who never takes a night off. The addition of Cogliano helps this team in a number of ways, and it may even improve the offense if he frees Radek Faksa up from some of his defensive responsibilities.

After the loss to the St. Louis Blues Jim Montgomery discussed the culture of mediocrity around the team. I wrote more about that situation here. The main idea there was that listening to Stars management continue to clutch pearls about how bad the culture is without changing the players out would have been obnoxious and pointless. This trade in isolation isn’t going to fix all of the issues, but it’s a start.

Sean Shapiro hit the nail on the head this morning. In his Shap Shots column he talked extensively about how the mediocre culture took root. This is a blurb from his thoughts:

Benn has also been allowed to define what leadership means for the Stars. He leads by his play rather than his words, making his captaincy less impactful when he’s not playing at a high level.

While Benn takes the lumps because of certain things he represents, he’s also provided the shield that stops other leaders on this team from being exposed. When Benn was out recently, the bench was silent; no one stepped up. When players that wore a letter were asked after Saturday’s loss to St. Louis about how they could impact the team as leaders, they responded by essentially saying they had done their jobs, that the loss was not their fault.

No one is asking John Klingberg to babysit other players while they get ready for a game, but there is a responsibility that comes with wearing an “A” which means you actually work to help make sure those following you are prepared. You need leaders to be part of the solution, not the problem.

This is where mediocrity takes hold. There is an expectation that others will be better, but no one is taking responsibility for the problems. They go all the way to the top and trickle down.

You aren’t going to change Jamie Benn’s personality, and changing a culture from within is hard. Bringing new respected voices in from the outside is one way to make it start to happen.  Make no mistake though, it’s a start.

Cogliano doesn’t fix the offense. He doesn’t fix the transition game or make the team have a consistent productive second line, but if he can help guide the younger guys on the bottom lines to being better more consistent professionals he will make an impact whether he does anything on the ice or not. And if he can be that guy in the bottom six working to rally the troops during in tense moments even better.

Leadership is important. It’s always going to be virtually impossible to quantify. Clearly Stars management and the coaches think there is a leadership void. Without being in the room it is almost impossible to fairly say, but the coaches aren’t just making the concerns they see with leadership up.

This is a team that desperately needs secondary scoring, and that isn’t coming from Cogliano (or Shore). We’ll see what else they have planned, if anything, but if they think they are a legitimate contender they need more.

There will be a full write up about what Cogliano is and can provide later. In the meantime, I guess the Stars decided to try to fix it eh?

Good.

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1/13/19 – The Culture of Mediocrity

When Jim Lites publicly embarrassed the franchise on behalf of Tom Gaglardi and the rest of Dallas Stars management by going after Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin they made several severe miscalculations.

  • They had a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.
  • They had a fundamental misunderstanding of how to deal with the incorrectly diagnosed problem.
  • They dropped their biggest bomb, seemingly out of nowhere, with apparently no exit strategy should the message not produce results to their liking because they offered nothing in the way of consequences.

What the franchise keeps communicating with the fan base is that they have lost their way. By putting their two best players on blast without covering all of their bases to eliminate any potential excuses the organization opened themselves up to a significant amount of unwanted, but warranted, criticism. Once they dropped that bomb the time for words was over.

And yet…still they talk.

Jim Montgomery’s comments after the Stars lost to the St. Louis Blues further drove the point home that the Stars have lost their focus as an organization.

I am very frustrated that I have not been able to gain consistency in our performance and I haven’t been able to change the culture of mediocrity.

He opined about the effort against the Blues specifically.

“I thought there was no rhyme or reason to some of the decisions we made out there tonight. Our game plan wasn’t executed and that’s my fault for not getting the message through. The last two games have been a real gut punch for me, personally, because I just don’t think I am being able to get across how we are supposed to execute. The more important part is, never mind the execution, the effort can overcome a lot of the mistakes, but there is not the effort there right now to overcome mistakes.”

He was asked what he can do to get the message across.

I don’t know. My job is to keep trying. That’s my job.”

He was asked if he considered using a timeout during the first period to get a message across too.

“You get a lot of timeouts. In other games, I have done that approach on a timeout. I can think of the two Colorado [Avalanche] games, in particular, and Madison Square Garden, and sometimes you feel like that is the appropriate message, and sometimes you tell the captains. There have been sometimes, after a horrible period, where it’s [the captains’] room. You guys need to bring it forth. Unfortunately, there have been too many times where we have to think about how to motivate these guys. That’s a problem in and of itself that we have had to do that so many times this year already.”

In summation

  • I’m frustrated.
  • I haven’t communicated the game plan well enough.
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • The captains need to motivate people, but they often do a bad job of it.

Montgomery deserves more credit than the rest of the front office for publicly accepting responsibility for his perceived sins, but none of that makes an outside observer comfortable that this ship is being navigated coherently.

You don’t know what to do?

You haven’t communicated the game plan well enough?

You haven’t gotten rid of a culture of mediocrity, which inadvertently implies that this culture was blossoming under the 3rd winningest coach in NHL history?

It’s January 13th.

It has barely been two weeks since the Stars as an organization verbally, publicly, and loudly dropped the hammer on Benn and Seguin (mind you, they aren’t the only captains Montgomery would be referencing in his remarks), and the head coach is throwing his hands in the air essentially telling the world that the players aren’t executing what he and his staff are telling them to execute?

I don’t know what to do, but it’s my job to keep trying. This is not inspiring. At all.

By dropping their biggest bomb so early and inappropriately the Stars have set up a scenario where the only productive path they can follow without looking 100% impotent  is to alter the core of the roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean subtract from it, but it does at the least mean add to it. You simply can’t drop that bomb then continue to publicly complain about the same things.

In any leadership scenario if the leadership throws down the gauntlet they simply have to back up their words with actions if results don’t follow lest they run the risk of losing every shred of credibility.

How about an example?

On several occasions this year I have been told this same general idea by different students.

“Just give me a 70.”

“I’m trying really hard, but I don’t know this stuff. I would like to get at least a 75.”

“You can’t fail me.” (My personal favorite.)

This group of students wordlessly tells me on the regular that they have never learned accountability. They expect to pass regardless of any work they do. They tell me they’ve done their work – then I see 10 assignments with no attempt made. No homework is turned in. Virtually no one is in tutorials. Few ask questions in class. The expectation is that I am going to capitulate to give them what they want.

I’m stubborn.

I spent weeks trying to figure out the biggest appropriate bomb I could drop on them to get their attention. I decided to let them fail. They would get whatever grade they got put on their report card then, given that they need to learn, I would give them four days to recover credit despite that grade going home to mom and dad.

I sent home a form letter to every parent three weeks before Christmas detailing all the missing assignments for each student, listing tutorial dates, giving my email, providing login information for our online work program, and showing grades. I made as many calls as I could to people who didn’t return my letter signed. I covered all of my bases prior to dropping that bomb to give any stragglers a chance to get it together and to cover myself so no one can reasonably say I didn’t do everything in my power to help.

In the end, I know I have gone above and beyond to help these kids do what they need to do to be successful. I have removed every possible excuse these kids could have to the point that the only possible conclusion any reasonable person can make is that these kids failed themselves. If I don’t stick to my guns now it will all be for nothing.

Could Stars management honestly say they did everything possible to make this team competitive at a high level in 2019, given their offseason, prior to dragging Seguin and Benn? The same offseason which saw them add a decent backup goalie, promote a 19 year old defenseman, sign Blake Comeau, and sign Roman Polak? Really?

Of course not.

Now the Stars are still not happy with their roster. They publicly blamed Benn and Seguin for the mess so now the only logical next step is to find them some help. They can’t move either guy without their consent, and doing so would be stupid. They only have enough cap space to add a player making about $4,000,000 for the season at the deadline (though that could have been significantly higher had they put Stephen Johns on LTIR after training camp, something they inexplicably didn’t do).

How much of an impact is $4,000,000 going to buy you right now?

Unless they get very creative the answer is coming from within. Erik Condra needs to stay in the bottom six. Denis Gurianov needs to be given a chance even if he struggles. Roope Hintz keeps improving. Joel L’Esperance is the 2nd highest scorer in the AHL. Let him have a go.

As a general rule I never support those who call for full rebuilds of teams with a lot of talent. The Stars have it. If you think this roster is good enough to win and you want to infuse this roster with passion then the most obvious option is to bring players in who haven’t been tainted by this culture of mediocrity.

Give the kids ice time at the expense of veterans. Let them bring youthful exuberance and excitement into the lineup. Put them in leadership roles and see what happens. Empower them to push veterans even if they make some mistakes. From day one the message has been that mistakes aren’t as important as effort. Am I to believe kids fighting for their NHL lives won’t put that level of effort out there? Of course they will.

Barring a massive reorganization of the roster on a shoestring remaining budget the only way forward for 2019 is to let the kids play prominent minutes if the Stars still aren’t satisfied with the product on the ice. They have to do something to if they still aren’t satisfied. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I can’t listen to Stars management complain anymore.

Stop clutching your pearls, take the reins, and do something about it. Lead the organization the way you want the players to lead on the ice.

Accept responsibility and fix this.

Edit: apparently the Stars can make up to about $12,000,000 in cap space by retroactively LTIRing Johns, Martin Hanzal, and Marc Methot. Would’ve sworn that wasn’t possible, but apparently the Stars can add anyone available should they choose. The point remains: do something.

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1/8/19 – The Case for Erik Condra

The Dallas Stars often make it hard to defend their ability to develop players. The swapping of Denis Gurianov with Erik Condra appears to be another in a string of head scratching moves, but I’m not sure questioning it is fair to either player.

I genuinely believe that Gurianov should be on the NHL roster because I do believe he is one of the Stars top 12 forwards. He brings an offensive spark they’ve needed all season when he is at his best. I get sending him down temporarily if they think he isn’t consistently demonstrating that ability.

I think you can very easily make an argument that Condra is among the Stars top 12 forwards also, and that he should also be up and playing. Whether that should be in place of Gurianov or not is debatable, but over his career he has demonstrated significantly more value in terms of Goals Above Replacement than many of his Stars contemporaries.

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I pulled the GAR totals from Evolving-Hockey and put them over a 60 minute pace to even out the ice time discrepancies. Val Nichushkin’s rookie season gave him enough of a head start to stay ahead of Condra on a rate basis, but many of the others can’t touch the value he has brought in his NHL career on an hourly basis.

Hell, he has almost the same cumulative GAR total as Blake Comeau in less than half of the minutes.

It’s important to point out that GAR is descriptive, not prescriptive. There is no guarantee that since Condra has put these totals on the board in the past that he can continue to do it after a couple years absence from the NHL. On the other hand, he has 34 points in 32 games for the Texas Stars this year. When you combine that with his defensive reputation it isn’t hard to see why the Trying To Win Now Stars would prefer him on the roster over Gurianov at the moment.

What are some things we know about what Condra has done in the NHL? Evolving-Hockey breaks GAR down into Even Strength, Power Play, Penalty Killing, and Penalty Differential components.

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Across the board Condra either breaks even or provides above replacement level value historically. He is historically the best penalty killer of the group, and he draws as many penalties as he takes.

The problem here is that Condra is making $750,000. The rest of those guys combined are making $12,700,000 to not be discernibly better than the guy coming off the street. If you lump Pitlick in with him you have arguably two of the three best players on this list combining to make less than half of what Nichushkin, Shore, Comeau, or Janmark each make individually.

That isn’t a particularly good indicator that the front office is moving in the right direction. Roster decisions with the bottom nine forwards have been sketchy at best for several reasons. This doesn’t even touch the bag of money they handed the injury-prone Martin Hanzal. Poor talent identification on the bottom of the roster is the key reason the Stars aren’t at the top of the conference right now.

Calling up Condra appears like it could definitely help that group. Bringing Gurianov back when he rounds back into form should too. The Stars have the horses to play in the bottom six. Now they need to do a better job of identifying them to allow them to spend more appropriately to fill other holes.

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